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Review: ‘The Wild Life’

dfn-wild_life_300The English-language title of a new animated film from Belgium is a play on words that is only accurate in the most literal terms possible.

Gentle and good-hearted as it is, The Wild Life is clearly targeted at patient young children; it quickly becomes tedious for adults to endure. The pace is slow and everything is repeated at least once, if not twice or thrice.

The lighthearted tone occasionally inspires a clever quip to emerge, but The Wild Life is mostly a pleasantly arid version of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, first published in 1719. The film begins with a flashback framing device that also establishes animals can talk, as long as humans aren’t within hearing distance.

The flashback picks up at that point in the novel when Crusoe is shipwrecked on a tiny desolate island in the company of a dog and two cats. The island is inhabited only by a small group of animals, one of each species (?!), who have subsisted on the island thanks to its native vegetation. They overcome their initial fear/suspicion of the human thanks to the encouragement of a parrot renamed Tuesday by Crusoe.

Tuesday becomes a go-between between the human and the animals — and, as narrator, between the movie and viewers — and Crusoe is soon the recipient of considerable, well-meaning help from the local animals. Meanwhile the two surviving cats, who established an adversarial relationship with Crusoe even before the shipwreck, take refuge on a nearby isle and plot their revenge. Once the cats begin their vengeful attack, the film becomes a rolling series of action sequences that are probably executed as well as could be expected, though there’s a fair degree of repetition that becomes exhausting to behold.

It’s not that The Wild Life, directed by Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen (Fly Me to the Man, an animated endeavor of similar temperament), is a bad movie, but more that it lacks much interest for adult viewers: there are no interesting characters, the comic material is threadbare, and the action sequences lack the requisite thrills.

For children, it may be a more promising adventure. Very little grave danger is even suggested; the one character who doesn’t make it to the end is dispatched off-screen, as the result of a heroic gesture. Most everything is explained in simple terms and repeated at least twice; while that may drive adults mad, it’s a kindness to some children.

Sadly, however, it seems that The Mild Whatever would be a more accurate title.

The film opens in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, September 9.