Dir: Steve "Spaz" Williams.US. 2006. 84mins.

The wilderness may be unmanageable and out ofcontrol, but Disney's The Wild is very much a beast offamiliarity, albeit a somewhat colorful one. Disney's rift with animationpartner Pixar now healed, it will be June release Cars that gets the bigger promotionalpush and is most likely to reap the subsequent financial windfall; while this in-housecomputer-animated effort is a pleasant enough diversion, for many it may summonup some sense of dejà vu.

The hungryreception for Ice Age: TheMeltdown may help drive audiences into TheWild, catching in particular the attention of adolescent filmgoers who justa week or so ago had an enjoyable animation experience.

Disney can onlyhope that being beaten to the punch by the very similarly plotted Madagascar last year does not dent The Wild's returns too much. Madagascar film opened in May to $47m enroute to $193m domestically and another whopping $330m-plus overseas - totalsthat seem distinctly out of reach for TheWild.

Disney's filmwill seem awfully familiar to those who embraced Madagascar, from the main characters (both include a lion andgiraffe) to the chief plot arc (a misadventure in Africa involving the timelyre-emergence of primal instinct). To that end, The Wild seems actually quite cultivated, a problem in such anarena of novelty.

Better commercialexpectations would fall somewhere closer to Disney's first owncomputer-animated endeavor, ChickenLittle, which pulled in $135m domestically and $178m abroad.

The Wild centres on a motley crew of New York City Zoo animals. LionSamson (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) is the main attraction and resident "BigMan on Campus," his legend stoked by feral tales of adolescence in his naturalhabitat.

His young cub sonRyan (Greg Cipes), meanwhile, is overshadowed by hisfather, and humiliated that as he enters pubescence he can't even roar, managingonly a pitiful kitty's growl.

When Ryan isaccidentally trapped in his holding pen away and taken away, Samson tries tocome to his aid. After learning that said cargo is headed overseas, never toreturn, dad and a quartet of pals - squirrelly best friend Benny (James Belushi), giraffe Bridget (Garofalo),lispy, dim-witted snake Larry (Richard Kind) andacerbic koala Nigel (Eddie Izzard) - decide to rescue Ryan.

They set offcross-town in search of the harbour (they look for "thestiff lady with spikes" aka the Statue of Liberty,the nearest recognisable landmark), encountering firstthe perils of the urban jungle and then the dangers of the open sea beforerunning ashore in Africa.

While the othersturn to Samson to lead the way, only Benny knows the truth about his friend - that he really is not from the wild and has no more predatoryinstincts than anyone else. The ultimate test arises when the group isseparated and a pack of ferocious wildebeests, led by Kazar(William Shatner), capture some.

The Wild's animation is generally pretty neat. Director Steve "Spaz" Williams and producer Clint Goldman helped to revolutionise CG character animation during their longassociation with ILM, working on such films as The Abyss, The Mask, Eraser, Jurassic Park and Terminator2: Judgment Day. Sharp facial characteristics abound here, and there's anengaging visual palette born mostly from natural colors and lighting (although severalthird act scenes involving bugs and chameleons are overly buffoonish and out ofstep with much of the rest of the movie).

But story is filledwith all manner of strange stops and starts. A brief send-up of Star Wars' famous trash compactor sceneis over before it even really gets going. The movie, when cornered, reaches fora grand (and sometimes borrowed) sweeping emotionalism, as when it inserts Coldplay's propulsive Clocksunder the animals' first foray into the city In the absence of other suchgoading musical cues, characters deliver on-the-nose explications of emotionalfeeling that the natural arcs of the scenes make plainly clear.

Additionallyproblematic, on a purely narrative level, is the unspoken animation accord thatdictates no harm can come to grazers from co-mingled carnivores. This notion ofa lapsed or convenient part-time predator is already played out within thegenre, resulting in a slew of instantly recognisable,dramatically uninspired scenes when address is foisted upon it. Better toembrace this difference and write around it or just leave it out altogether.

Most of themovie's humour comes less from the narrative itselfor even comical interplay, and more from the standalone quips of a few of thecharacters.

Janeane Garofalo bringsa grounded wit to Bridget, but it's Izzard's Nigel who steals the show. Whetherdisdainfully dismissing showers as the cleaning habit of humans ("Ugh, I can'timagine beginning each day without licking myself") or dropping his cloak ofbravado and pleading for his life ("Don't kill me, I've had such a weird life -it's not fair"), Izzard gives Nigel a pinch of narcissistic glee but neveroff-putting or over-the-top ego. It's only fitting that a third act twist findsthe wildebeests mistaking Nigel for a long-prophesied god sent to lead theirascension up the food chain.

Production company

US distribution

Buena Vista International

Beau Flynn
Clint Goldman

Mark Gibson and Philip Halprin
from a story by Ed Decter and John J Strauss

Art direction
Chris Farmer
Michael E Goldman

Production design
Chris Farmer

Scott Balcerek
Steven Wagner

Alan Silvestri

Main voice cast
Kiefer Sutherland
James Belushi
Janeane Garofalo
Eddie Izzard
Richard Kind
Greg Cipes
William Shatner