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The Wild Life: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Review

The Wild Life (2016) movie poster The Wild Life

US Theatrical Release: September 9, 2016 (Belgian Release: March 30, 2016) / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Vincent Kesteloot / Writers: Lee Christopher, Domonic Paris, Graham Welldon (screenplay); Daniel Defoe (book Robinson Crusoe)

Voice Cast: Doug Stone (Aynsley), Ron Allen (Bosun), Colin Metzger (Carmello), Michael Sorich (Cecil), Yuri Lowenthal (Robinson Crusoe), Sandy Fox (Epi), Jay Jones (Friday), Lindsay Torrance (Kiki), Dennis O'Connor (Long John Silver), Jeff Doucette (Pango), Laila Berzins (Rosie), B.J. Oakie (Rufus), Joey Lotsko (Sailor #1), Lex Lang (Sailor #2), Joey Camen (Scrubby), George Babbit (Sleeping Sailor), Kyle Hebert (Tom Cat), David Howard (Tuesday)

Buy The Wild Life from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Computer animation used to be an exclusive playground. The medium was enough for a family movie created in it to attract a substantial and receptive audience. Now, nearly all animation involves the computer and supply is the greatest it's ever been. CG-animated family comedies continue to thrive at the box office around the world, as evidenced by massive grosses of this year's Finding Dory,
Zootopia, and The Secret Life of Pets. But the days of getting people to show up to see your movie just because it is computer-animated are long gone. Plenty of cartoon features underperform. Remember Ratchet & Clank and Norm of the North? Probably not. They both bombed earlier this year and they were American productions. Imported ones may try to hide their foreign origins and emulate the styles and production values of US 'toons. But they just about never succeed at reaching audiences even on the order of those homegrown flops.

The Wild Life, a Belgian-French production called Robinson Crusoe everywhere but North America, did manage to gross $8 million in the domestic market, just a hair under Ratchet and 2014's Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return. Of course, that's not nearly enough for it to be profitable nor enough to support the seemingly obvious observation that "there's big money in animation." For Pixar, Disney, and Illumination Entertainment, yes. For everyone else, even seasoned pioneers DreamWorks and Blue Sky, there could be big money or big losses depending on the movie.

The fact that I'm opening this review not with a discussion of the merits of The Wild Life but of its commercial performance should make it clear that this endeavor is not particularly stimulating on an artistic level. The big CGI boom of the late '90s and early 2000s forged a template for filmmakers to follow for seemingly surefire success. And even though lately many of the biggest returns have gone to original, outside-the-box tales like Inside Out, Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, most animation studios in and outside of North America and the production companies bankrolling them still opt for tried and true comic adventures with wisecracking animals and conventional hero's journeys. Feeling familiar and derivative, such movies rarely escape obscurity, even if one of the big studios will distribute them on home video and successfully hide their foreign origins.

The Belgian-French animated feature "The Wild Life" retells the story of "Robinson Crusoe" from the perspective of a red Macaw named Mak and other exotic island-dwelling animals.

It isn't obvious from watching The Wild Life that it's a foreign production. The writing, characterization, and comedy could all believably originate from a small generic US animation house you haven't heard of. The American English voice cast is devoid of anything you could call star power. The product is watchable and at times borders upon meeting a generous definition of "diverting."

Loosely adapting Daniel Defoe's once very famous and celebrated 18th century novel, Wild Life opens with the pirate ship of Captain Long John Silver discovering a burning signal that leads them to the island of one stranded, red-bearded Robinson Crusoe. We come to find out how this castaway came to this island, not from his perspective but from that of the exotic animals that called the island home first. They are led by Mak, a bored Scarlet Macaw who desperately wants to see the world. But everyone else on the island discourages him from doing that.

The arrival of Robinson and his dog via shipwreck gives Mak hope of exploring the world. But Mel and May, the mangy cats that come with Robinson, pose a threat to everyone's plans, as they make mischief. There are some evil plans, an escape attempt, and many scenes of animals commenting on their predicament, again led by Mak, whom Robinson has renamed Tuesday.

Robinson Crusoe tries building a vessel for escape, with some "help" from his animal allies.

You'd have to be exposed to much less animation than I've been to see a whole lot of value in The Wild Life. There is nothing inherently wrong with this production, but nor is there anything decidedly right. It's 90 minutes of colorful animals putting a twist on a book you don't know in a way you won't remember. No one is saying all animation studios need to try to outPixar Pixar. But why is it that there is more thought and vision put into that studio's worst films -- Cars 2 and The Good Dinosaur --
than in most other studios' only efforts? Even with all the animation being made, how many opportunities to write and direct a finished feature film do most filmmakers get? Only a handful. Why not try to do something special and different with that opportunity? To make something that won't just be dismissed or forgiven as children's fare but as something with the potential to be embraced by a generation and passed down to the next.

Director Vincent Kesteloot, whose previous film was something called A Turtle's Tale 2: Sammy's Escape from Paradise, takes no such pride in this project. He doesn't seize this as an opportunity to excite children about Defoe's book or to earn himself immortality. He's not looking to make the next Up or Aladdin. He probably just would rather make this than A Turtle's Tale 3. And though the public didn't much care about this movie, with fewer than 1 million tickets sold in North America, they cared about this more than they would have A Turtle's Tale 3.

As a testament to how little regard for this project there was, you'll notice it didn't make this year's record list of 27 animated features submitted to the Academy for Best Animated Feature contention. Not because it was ineligible, but because no one cared about or believed in the movie enough to submit paperwork for it.

Three months after its measly showing in theaters under the Summit banner, The Wild Life hit stores last week from Lionsgate in a DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

The Wild Life: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.95 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Wild Life employs 2.40:1, the wider of the two standard aspect ratios, though it keeps almost all action to the center of the frame, seemingly to guard the film for 1.78:1 television broadcasts. That means some of the available pixels go to black bars, but the majority are still devoted to the feature presentation, which if no threat to Pixar at least looks polished and respectable enough. The Blu-ray's 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is sufficiently lively.

"Meet the Characters" shows off some cat concept art. "Tips for Your Trip!" uses clips to supply trip tips.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The same extras on both Blu-ray and DVD begin with "A Wild World: Making The Wild Life" (9:22),

a standard issue featurette allowing the filmmakers (some of them speaking with European accents) and voice actors to discuss their movie. Nothing they say will really enhance your appreciation for it.

"Meet the Characters" (10:09) lives up to its title with a survey of the cast via clips and remarks from voice actors and creative crew.

"Tips for Your Trip!" (4:00) dispenses ten tips for surviving life on a desert island over clips from the movie.

Finally, "The Wild Life Musical Adventure" (3:15) strings together clips without much rhyme or reason.

The discs open with trailers for Shaun the Sheep: The Movie, Norm of the North, Amazonia, the shameless Kung Fu Panda knockoff The Adventures of Panda Warrior, and Alpha and Omega: Dino Dip. The menu's "Trailers" listing repeats these rather than preserving any of The Wild Life's own trailers.

The main menu adds score and some subtle animation to a shot of the lead characters. The Blu-ray resumes playback and supports bookmarks also.

Holding two uniquely labeled full-color discs as well as the obligatory Digital HD code, the eco-friendly keepcase is topped by a slipcover that embosses outlines (and curves) of characters and the title extensively.

Mangy gray cats Mel and May are the villains of "The Wild Life."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I watched The Wild Life three days ago and it's already almost entirely forgotten. This European animal 'toon does very little to distinguish itself and little to enjoy on really any level.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray combo pack delivers fine picture and sound, all the playback versatility you could want, and a merely okay handful of extras. You won't regret passing on this one.

Buy The Wild Life from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

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Reviewed December 4, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Summit Entertainment, StudioCanal, nWave Pictures, Anton Capital Entertainment, Illuminata Pictures, and Lionsgate.
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