The Wild can best be understood, I think, as a direct message from Disney to its shareholders. "$7.4 billion may sound like a high price," the film seems to be saying, "but look where we'd be without Pixar."
Yes, buying the expensive but enormously successful team behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles and putting the Pixar folks in charge of Disney's entire animation division was about the best decision Disney CEO Bob Iger could have made. The Wild (rated G), Disney's new non-Pixar CGI animated feature, proves the point not because it's so bad-it's really not-but because the film displays so much creative potential without evidencing a hint of the creative vision that might make it more than just time filler.
Derivative of many films, The Wild bears a particularly close resemblance to last year's Madagascar. As in Madagascar, our animal heroes live comfortable lives in a New York City zoo, entertaining fawning crowds by day and cavorting freely throughout the park after dark. The lion Samson (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) is the star attraction at the zoo. His best friends are a squirrel named Benny (James Belushi), a giraffe named Bridget (Janeane Garofalo), a koala named Nigel (an absolutely nutty Eddie Izzard), and a snake named Larry (Richard Kind).
When Samson's son Ryan (Greg Cipes) is inadvertently taken from the zoo, Samson and the gang must go after him. And, again like Madagascar, these domesticated animals end up on an island, in the wild-a threatening environment to which they are completely unaccustomed.
This isn't so much a story as it is an opportunity to pound on these characters in every way imaginable. As with Ice Age: The Meltdown, The Wild's creators are convinced that nothing is so funny or entertaining as a kick, whack, swat, fall, bonk, or smack. The voice talent present here is impressive, and it lends some humor to the characters, but these animal-shaped punching bags just don't register with the heart.