22 July 2006 | StevePaget
Madagascar without the jokes. Now THAT's unappealing.
For some reason, the various Hollywood studios occasionally display almost telepathic communication. Simultaneously, seemingly independently, they release two films which are very similar. We saw it with Dante's Peak and Volcano in 1997 (Two films in which a volcano erupts in a populated area of America), Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998 (Two films where a giant meteor is going to destroy all life on Earth) and this year saw two studios revisiting the "capsizing cruise liner" genre with the Poseidon remake and the made-for-TV The Poseidon Adventure. Why do they do this? Surely it cannot be a coincidence. And films take years to produce, so it's not like one company can see an advert for a film and rush out their own version. Maybe it's because Hollywood is not a very secretive place. Ideas and scripts are touted round all the studios before they are bought, so it's not surprising that sometimes a company will set off down similar paths.
So, after last year's Madagascar was a reasonable hit for Dreamworks, arch-rivals Disney have "independently" come up with this, The Wild. A coincidence? Let's review the evidence.
Madagascar features a group of animals who are residents of a New York zoo. And so does The Wild.
In Madagascar, the group's leader is a lion, and it also includes a giraffe. And it's the same in The Wild.
In Madagascar, the group break out of the zoo to set off on a cargo ship for a remote jungle location. And it's the same in The Wild.
In Madagascar, the Lion comes to terms with the contrast between his pampered existence in captivity and life in the wild. And it's the same in The Wild.
And even the humorous sidekicks are similar. In Madagascar, the group are aided by a team of military penguins, who operate with hilarious efficiency and speak in short, sharp sentences. In The Wild, they're chameleons.
So if you have seen Madagascar, you've basically already seen the Wild, right? Not exactly. Because if you ignore those suspicious connections, The Wild is actually a different kind of film, with clear signs of its heritage. Madagascar is more about the comedy, while The Wild follows the classic Disney themes of family values and adventure against adversity. If Masdagascar is Shrek, The Wild is Finding Nemo.
Except that is too much of a compliment. The Wild is still a second-rate animated movie, clearly from the Disney half of the Disney-Pixar partnership. Kiefer Sutherland plays Samson the lion straight down the line. His motivation is just to save his son from volcanic fiery death, so he saves the jokes and pratfalls for his entourage, most notably the scene-stealing koala played by Eddie Izzard. In fact, Sutherland might as well be reprising his role from 24, where he was invariably trying to save his annoying daughter. Only this time he's a lion, of course.
The film dallies too much with tired old psychobabble father-son nonsense, much in the same way that spoiled Chicken Little earlier this year. The quality of the animation is another step forward in the ability of artists to render animals, and it takes a more natural approach to Madagascar that is really very impressive indeed.
But Madagascar stole the march, leaving The Wild look a little bit preachy and rather old-school.