NFK film review: The Wild Thornberrys Movie
Nathanael Smith | On 01, May 2016
Netflix for Kids, VODzilla.co’s Geneva Conventions-defying monthly column, where an adult with no children works his way through the kids’ catalogue on Netflix UK. A poll was taken, the people spoke and the next film that our intrepid viewer had to watch was The Wild Thornberrys Movie. Will this prove to be another Happily N’Ever After, or could we have the first enjoyable NFK film on our hands?
Chances are that you read that in the voice of Nigel Thornberry. The big-nosed, brush-haired father of The Wild Thornberrys, voiced by Tim Curry, was the scene-stealing highlight of the TV series, beloved for his awkward Britishness. In fact, the late 90s show endured so much in the public conscious that a few years ago Nigel became the subject of a meme, where his face would replace Disney characters (look it up at your peril).
As such, for anyone of a certain generation, returning to the Thornberry franchise comes with a lot of in-built affection. The show follows the life of Eliza, the daughter of Nigel and Marianne, as they travel around the world filming a wildlife documentary. The catch is that Eliza can speak to animals, thanks to some Shamanic magic and inherent compassion. Her sister, Debbie, is not so keen, perpetually disgusted by the whole wilderness-and-wildlife experience. There’s also a feral child named Donnie and a monkey named Darwin, who lives with them and is Eliza’s best friend.
The movie kicks things up a notch by bringing in poachers who steal a cheetah cub and sending Eliza to the most terrifying landscape of them all: a British boarding school. There’s a sense of adventure to the film, carried over from the series, that makes it an immediately enjoyable experience. Here, the setting moves between Kenya and the Congo, with a brief digression to Britain, where the squirrels talk with broad London accents. While the animation is hardly The Lion King and the sunset-strewn vision of central and eastern Africa is undoubtedly romanticised, care and attention have clearly been put into making this. This isn’t some cheaply made spin-off looking to dupe unsuspecting parents – it looks good and the action sequences are kinetic. Early on, a cheetah chases wildebeest across the savannah and the camera gets low, following the chase through the waving grass.
The voice cast is eclectic, but strong. Joining Curry on the call-sheet are Marisa Tomei, Rupert Everett and Lynn Redgrave, each selling their roles with conviction. Everett’s character is eerily reminiscent of Sebastian St. Clair, the snow leopard from Bojack Horseman. Most bafflingly, Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers plays Donnie, whose dialogue is merely nonsensical jabbering. Curry is, once more, the main attraction, that colonial, nasal attempt at RP still capable of causing Proustian rushes home from school to start watching.
At the heart of the movie remains Eliza, a wonderfully drawn character with credible traits that children will easily identify with. She’s voiced by Lacey Chabert, who is perhaps best known for her role as Gretchen in Mean Girls (although how she hasn’t made a comeback with the Christian Mingle movie is anyone’s guess). Eliza is headstrong, compassionate, stubborn and interesting. Her relationship with her valley-girl sister Debbie is sweetly written, while her commitment to treating animals well should inspire a generation of Greenpeace activists and people writing positive reviews of Blackfish.
Nickelodeon have good precedent with their cinematic spin-offs of popular TV series. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (and to a lesser extent, its sequel) is a work of unhinged genius. This isn’t quite up there in those heady heights, but children will get a kick out of the poacher-thwarting plot. They may even learn a little about conservation in the process.
The Wild Thornberrys Movie is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.