Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Wild Thornberrys Movie – Fun for Kids, Entertaining for Adults

Written by Kate Boutillier
Directed by Cathy Malkasian and Jeff McGrath

My expectations of kids movies have gone downhill through the years. Back when my oldest daughter (now 12) was young, we couldn’t wait for the next movie to come out and would often be in theaters on opening day. Lately, however, the fare has seemed to go downhill. I’ve left carting the kids to the theater to my husband on several occasions, preferring to catch up with some quiet time to seeing the latest cartoon.

With two weeks off from school and cabin-fever starting to set it, it was time to bite the bullet and take the kids to see The Wild Thornberrys. The movie is based on the Nickelodeon Channel cartoon of the same name. The premise is a family which travels in a very elaborate motorhome filming wildlife shows. Nigel Thornberry (voice by Tim Curry) is the father and Marianne (voice by Jodi Carlisle) is his wife. They have two daughters, Debbie (voice by Danielle Harris) and Eliza (voice by Lacey Chabert). They’ve picked up something of a menagerie as they’ve traveled. One is the wild boy they’ve adopted named Donnie (Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers – I can’t really call it “voicing”, it’s more like grunting and squealing) and the other is Darwin the chimp (voiced by Tom Kane).

The chimp talks? Well, not exactly. As explained early on in the film, many adventures ago Eliza rescued a trapped warthog who was really a shaman (holy man) who gave her the power to speak to the animals. The trick is that it has to be kept secret, something she’s managed to do so far. If she ever tells, she will lose her powers.

Do you need to know all of this before seeing the film? Not really. It’s pretty much reviewed for the viewer in the first few moments of the film. However, some of the plot intricacies show that it is better for a bit of the older set. My son fell asleep before we left for the theater so I elected to leave him at home. I think it would have been well over his 2 year old comprehension level although the animation and action would have probably kept his attention. Both my 7-year-old and 12-year-old enjoyed it, even if my 12-year-old is somewhat reluctant to admit it.

The plot is predictable. Eliza is playing with some cheetah cubs she is familiar with when one is captured by poachers. She blames herself for it since they went beyond the boundaries of where the cheetah-momma told them to play.

Grandma Thornberry (voice by Lynn Redgrave) has been visiting with the family in the wild and uses the incident to push for Eliza to be sent away to a London Boarding School. Of course, Eliza doesn’t stay there long. She escapes and makes her way back to the African plains with Darwin who stowed away to London.

It’s no surprise that Eliza goes after the poachers, really. What would the point be of the show if she is stuck in a London Boarding School? But on a child’s level they haven’t figured out predictability yet, so the storyline works for them.

The poachers are not content with just a cheetah cub, however. The big score is coming up. An eclipse is coming up during which all the elephants come out of the jungle and congregate together in a valley. Nigel Thornberry is excited as it’s an opportunity for some magnificent photography. The poachers are intending to make off with a good deal of ivory.

The conservation message is strong here. Poachers are evil and wildlife is wonderful. Anyone who doesn’t think this way might be put off by the way Eliza speaks with the animals; it has the effect of humanizing them a great deal. Along the way, throughout the story, there are little tidbits of information fed off so children learn small things about animals without even realizing it.

There are some fairly intense moments in the film and I was even worried about my 7-year-old who knows it’s not real. If your child is upset by things like Pinocchio and Geppetto being swallowed by the whale, this movie may upset them as well. If you’re put off by things like “The Wedgie Dance” or Donnie showing a dung beetle up his nose, this movie might not be for you.

As an adult, I found the movie to be entertaining. There were quite a few times I laughed out loud. Some of the funniest moments are at the expense of Debbie, the sister who longs to be back in civilization. She shoots off sarcastic and funny lines throughout the film.

The animation is the same sort we’ve seen in both The Wild Thornberrys television show and Rugrats. It’s not as detailed as we’ve seen in some of the newer animated movies, nor does it seem to convey the depth present in animated flicks such as Disney’s Dinosaur. It’s there primarily to convey a story to a younger audience.

If you’re familiar with the television show, chances are you will greatly enjoy The Wild Thornberrys Movie. If you’re not, you might want to catch a few episodes of the series before venturing into the theater.