Blu-ray Review: The Wild Life (2016)

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The Wild Life is a modestly-budgeted animated feature that was released around the world as Robinson Crusoe. Maybe U.S. distributor Lionsgate felt the original title was too literary. But at least it cues us of what to expect from the film's plot, something the U.S. title does not. Yes, The Wild Life is based on Daniel Defoe's 297-year-old novel, loosely that is. No cannibalism on the island upon which Robinson (voiced here by Yuri Lowenthal) is stranded, but rather he is surrounded by plenty of talking animals.

This Belgian-French production (which played theatrically in 3D) doesn't boast any recognizable names in the voice cast. It performed very poorly at the U.S. box office ($8 million) and not much better internationally ($31.5 million). Now Lionsgate has brought The Wild Life to Blu-ray (2D only) and DVD in time to find an audience (they're hoping) for the holidays. 
 
Wild Life A.jpg As sanitized and family-friendly as the Defoe story has been rendered, the film just doesn't have the kind of fun-loving spirit needed to capture kids' affection. Robinson and his trusty dog Aynsley (voiced by Doug Stone) travel via ship to an idyllic tropical paradise. A terrible storm leaves them stranded, along with a pair of conniving cats, Mel (Jeff Doucette) and May (Debi Tinsley). Their plight dovetails with a macaw named Mak (David Howard Thornton) who longs to see what life is like beyond the island. The machinations that follow, as Robinson awaits rescue, result in an oddly disjointed experience—laced with attempts at humor that mostly fall flat. Oh, and (spoiler alert) the dog Aynsley dies. I mention that because I feel it's an unnecessary downer that basically tanks the movie's already lagging spirit.

On the plus side, the digital animation is truly impressive, at least in terms of backgrounds and inanimate objects. There's a slightly mechanical feel to the character animation that makes it feel a bit lifeless (especially the humans), but the settings are nice to look at. Lionsgate's Blu-ray makes the most of it with a flawless visual presentation. Audio is offered in lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1. 

Wild Life B.jpg Special features include a slight making-of featurette called "A Wild World" that is basically a glorified promo reel. "Meet the Characters" introduces us to some of the voice cast members in brief interview clips. Less interesting are film-clip montages "Tips for Your Trip" and "The Wild Life Musical Adventure."

Co-directors Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen, not to mention the technical crew, obviously invested a lot of care in The Wild Life. In pure visual terms, their efforts largely paid off. But there's not much here to endear viewers to the characters.
 
Wild Life C.jpg

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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