Disney used to be the undisputed leader in animation, but lately the studio has been trailing behind its competitors, and in more ways than one. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Wild, the second film Disney has released since abandoning traditional hand-drawn animation for the computer-generated kind. (The first was Chicken Little.)
The movie concerns a rather domesticated lion who lives in a New York City zoo but one day catches a boat for Africa with some of his buddies of various species—and if that premise sounds familiar, it may be because you saw, or at least heard of, the DreamWorks cartoon Madagascar when it came out less than a year ago. Animated films of this quality take a few years to produce, so there's no need to assume the similarity is anything more than a coincidence; however, the proximity between the release dates for the two films does invite comparison, and, quite apart from the fact that Disney was beaten to the punch, it certainly doesn't help The Wild that it is the less entertaining and memorable of the two films.
This time, the story concerns a lion named Samson (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland), who roars for the crowds and regales his son Ryan (Greg Cipes) with tall tales about his exploits back on the Dark Continent. Ryan likes these stories, but he is also frustrated by them, because they remind him that he is not old enough to roar like his old man—or should that be old mane? Anyway, whenever he does try to roar, he barely gets beyond a meow, and everyone at the zoo—human guests, animal residents—laughs at him, which fills Ryan with even more shame. One day Ryan hops a fence and loiters inside a cargo container that, he has been told, will take animals to "the wild"—and when the humans come and take him away accidentally, Samson and his friends follow close behind, to try to take him back. (A father goes on a long journey to retrieve his son? Sounds like a rehash of Finding Nemo.)
The story that follows is somewhat episodic, as you might expect, but none of the episodes makes much of an impression. First Samson and his friends—Nigel the gets-no-respect koala (Eddie Izzard, who easily and effortlessly steals the movie), Bridget the neurotic giraffe (Janeane Garofalo), Larry the clueless snake (Richard Kind) and Benny the streetwise squirrel (Jim Belushi)—have to figure out where the cargo container is going, so they consult a pigeon that speaks with an East Indian accent so exaggerated it brings Peter Sellers to mind. Then they make their way through New York, dodging some rabid dogs; the leader of this frothing-at-the-mouth pack is a poodle, which is cute, but this detail doesn't really go anywhere. Then they travel through a sewer, where they encounter a couple of alligators; the punchline to this scene is also mildly amusing, but quickly forgotten.
Then, Samson and his friends commandeer a small boat, and since they apparently have an unlimited supply of fuel, they pursue the freighter carrying Ryan's cargo container all the way to Africa. Once they have landed, the animals are separated, and each one has his or her own little adventure, but eventually one storyline dominates the others. It seems a cult of wildebeests who gather inside a volcano are tired of being prey for the lions, and want to turn the tables. If they could only become carnivores, they would be able to turn the food chain upside-down—and for reasons too bizarre to spell out here, they believe Nigel the koala, of all creatures, has the power to enable this. (A furry animal who complains that he never gets respect is separated from his friends and suddenly elevated to godhood by volcano-based worshippers? Sounds like a rehash of Ice Age: The Meltdown.)