It’s not uncommon in Hollywood for a premise to be picked up and developed simultaneously by competing studios. And more often than not, only one film based on said premise finds box office gold. For example, if I were to walk up to 100 people and ask them what film features CGI animals breaking out of a New York Zoo to travel to Africa, no less than 99 of them would respond with Madagascar, as box office receipts will affirm. The other answer, Disney’s The Wild, sadly fell victim to being second out of the gate ” despite rumors it spawned the zoo escape premise. Now thanks to the advent of high-def home video, The Wild has a second lease on life in an arena Madagascar has yet to enter.
The similarities shared between Madagascar and The Wild are, at first, spooky. The animals, their clichéd personalities, and the settings ” both in New York and Africa ” are disturbingly alike. Where the two films veer apart is in storytelling and execution. The Wild strives for a photorealistic look to its animals with heavy shadows and impeccably animated fur, unlike the angular, cartoonish representations found in Madagascar. The jokes and especially moral messages of The Wild have much broader appeal to adults similar to other Disney efforts like The Lion King, while those in Madagascar seem to target a more defined adolescent audience.
The majority of jokes come from disgruntled Koala Nigel, voiced by Eddie Izzard in an almost completely improvised performance. I’d swear this character was hiding a flask of liquor in his fur and, when the camera was fixed on someone else, he’d take a swig or three. By the third act when Nigel succumbs to power garnered by wildebeests confusing him for a god due to a talking stuffed animal version of Nigel falling from the sky, the little furry joke machine has gone completely off his rocker. I think Nigel would wipe the floor with Madagascar’s penguins if he went head-to-head against them in a comedy showdown.
At a mere 82 minutes, Madagascar never feels rushed or cramped for time. It does however start slow as the animals and problems introduced, but then picks up considerably once the zoo’s walls are breached and Nigel gets on a roll. The little guy single-handedly pulls the predictable story away from succumbing to template drivel. Thanks to him, The Wild is a lot more entertaining than box office receipts would indicate.
A couple months ago I boasted about the picture quality in Buena Vista’s first animated Blu-ray Disc release Dinosaur despite its intentionally muddy and slightly washed out look. In retrospect, The Wild blows that high def presentation out of the water; colors are more vibrant, detail is more pronounced, and the three-dimensional effect is off the charts. In fact, the animals in The Wild are so stunning on Blu-ray that on several occasions I found myself unintentionally staring at subtle movements in their fur in a zombie-like trance. While The Wild’s PCM audio track wasn’t necessarily designed to shake, rattle and roll throughout, the video presentation is precisely how all CGI-animated films should look in high definition.
Buena Vista and Disney have shown a pattern of skimping on extras early on in their Blu-ray support, though oddly enough for The Wild, they have chosen to match the offerings found on the standard DVD. Nine Deleted Scenes w/optional filmmaker commentary are presented as storyboards, animatics or fully rendered scenes. One such omitted scene featuring Nigel going on one of his signature tirades is worth checking out. Nigel is also the focus of Eddie Izzard Unleashed as Nigel the Koala, a raw fly-on-the-wall look at Eddie coming up with a slew of improvised lines both used and scrapped for the film. The other less exciting extras are comprised of Meet Colin: The Rock Hyrax and an Everlife “Real Wild Child” Music Video.
I can’t recommend The Wild enough for early Blu-ray adopters, both for its mesmerizing picture quality and zingers from Nigel the Koala. I’d even love to see Nigel get his own spin-off direct-to-home video release so he can really let loose. The bottom line: don’t let The Wild’s obscurity dealt by Madagascar deter you from checking out arguably the best looking Blu-ray Disc released yet.
– Dan Bradley