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Friday, April 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Tame script fences in "The Wild"

Special to The Seattle Times

Imagine, please, comedian David Spade's contemptuous "Hollywood Minute" voice from "Saturday Night Live" sneering through the following: "I saw that new computer-animated movie 'The Wild' today. It was about some animals that escape a New York zoo to help a friend. They get in trouble in the city, end up on a vessel and sail to Africa, where they meet a lot of wacky characters. I liked this movie better the first time I saw it, when it was called 'Madagascar.' "

Indeed. I did, too.

Not that there aren't things to like about "The Wild." And, OK, it isn't entirely a photocopy of "Madagascar."

Movie review 2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"The Wild," with the voices of Kiefer Sutherland, William Shatner, Janeane Garofalo, James Belushi, Eddie Izzard, Richard Kind. Directed by Steve "Spaz" Williams, from a screenplay by Ed Decter, Mark Gibson, Philip Halprin, John J. Strauss. 85 minutes. Rated PG for mild animated violence. Several theaters.

Where the lion, giraffe, zebra and hippo of "Madagascar" were unabashedly urban and happy in captivity (until the zebra wasn't), "The Wild's" Samson the lion (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland), Bridget the giraffe (Janeane Garofalo), Benny the squirrel (James Belushi), Larry the anaconda (Richard Kind) and Nigel the koala (Eddie Izzard) are more resigned to their Big Apple fate.

For Samson, a near lifetime at the zoo provides perfect cover for what he considers his personal failings as a would-be king of the jungle. Samson is so good at spinning vividly heroic stories about conquests back in the Serengeti that his little son, Ryan (Greg Cipes), feels he can never measure up to dad's reputation.

In frustration, Ryan makes a mistake that results in his being shipped to Africa, pursued all the way by zoo escapees Samson and friends. Like the Ben Stiller-voiced lion in "Madagascar," Samson's primitive instincts are stirred by jungle surroundings. But whether he can protect Ryan and the others from crazed predators is in doubt.

That's all good, and the computer animation is almost startling in its near-photographic nuance and detail.

First-time director Steve "Spaz" Williams comes to "The Wild" with a wealth of computerized-effects experience on "Jurassic Park," "The Mask" and much else. It shows. But a bulky, uneven script with too many narrative cul de sacs (including a pointlessly lengthy curling match at the zoo) makes it hard to stay interested in "The Wild."

Performances are the best element, especially Sutherland (his naturally subdued growl is perfect) and William Shatner (who else?) as a megalomaniacal wildebeest leader.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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