Out of all the animated shows Nickelodeon has put out over the years, "The Wild Thornberrys" is a show that I've never really seen too much of. I knew what it was about and I had seen bits and pieces of it over the years and from what I had seen I remember liking it, but it was a show that I had never really watched. Going into "The Wild Thornberrys Movie", I had no idea what to expect and I walked out enjoying it quite a bit. While the film is definitely a bit uneven as animated films based on shows go and it suffers from a fair amount of problems, it's a film that I couldn't help but enjoy. It's a sweet animated film filled with a lot of funny moments, tender scenes, and plenty of charm to spare that it worked on me quite a bit.
Over the years, the Thornberry family, consisting of the adventurous documentary presenter Nigel (Tim Curry), his cameraman wife Marianne (Jodi Carlisle), cranky teenaged daughter Debbie (Danielle Harris), younger daughter Eliza (Lacey Chabert), and adopted wild boy Donnie (Flea) has traveled quite a bit around the world filming for nature programs and showing the wonders of the animal kingdom. During their visits around the world, Eliza alongside her monkey friend Darwin (Tom Kane) sneaks off to hang out with the wild animals since Eliza can talk to animals as a gift. One day during a trip to Kenya, Eliza witnesses the kidnapping of a cheetah cub named Tally (Kimberly Brooks) by poachers and tries to stop them though fails but not before getting a glimpse of their knife. After witnessing what happened, Nigel and Marianne decide that it's too dangerous for Eliza to spend time in the wild, and with encouragement from Nigel's mother Cordelia (Lynn Redgrave), she is sent off to boarding school in London with Darwin sneaking along. Feeling guilty for not saving Tally, Eliza decides to go back to Kenya to try to save the cheat cub herself and heads back to Africa with Darwin hoping to save him, not knowing that the poachers have a bigger plan in mind.
Like I said at the beginning of my review, I really don't have a lot of knowledge about the show apart from the basic premise and the characters, so I went into this film not knowing what to expect and I did enjoy what I saw. I wouldn't go as far as to call it one of my favorite animated films based on a TV show, even for Nickelodeon, but I still think it's a good film and there are definitely a lot of highlights to be found in this film. For one, I do like the film sets up the basic information for the show so that audiences that don't know much about it can get a good sense of what the show is like and who the characters are. I also think that the story itself was a pretty good one for one based on "The Wild Thornberrys" as it does have a lot of exciting moments and sequences. There are some funny scenes involving Darwin disguising himself as one of the girls at the boarding school which got a chuckle out of me and some smaller moments with Debbie who's desperately trying to control Donnie. The film even has a nice moment where Eliza and Nigel bond the night before she's sent off to England to go to boarding school. It was a nice little scene that really fleshed out the characters and I do wish the film had a few more moments like that I think the biggest highlight, in particular, is the opening scene where Eliza tries to rescue Tally from the poachers while dangling off a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter. It was a really exciting sequence. With that said, I do think the story isn't as fully fleshed as it should be because the pacing is really rushed. It's ultimately the biggest problem I have with the film as the film is constantly on the move and doesn't have a lot of time devoted to certain moments like Eliza trying to adjust to boarding school in England or what her life is like being in the wilderness before Tally is captured.
Even smaller moments like characters arriving at a certain location and getting a taste of the new world they were looking at felt a little too rushed. I wished the filmmakers devoted a little more time to flesh out some of the scenes. As far as the animation goes, it's really good as far as animated films based on TV shows go. The film really steps up the animation from the show by using a lot of diverse camera movements as it spins around and or does interesting pans or tilts to enhance the scenes with the aforementioned helicopter chase being the big highlight. I think it blended in with the traditional animation very well. I also really liked when the animation got a bit experimental at times with a dream sequence Eliza has being the notable example. There's a lot of diverse colors and African-influenced art and I really loved it. As far as the characters go, I do like most of them even if I wanted to learn more. I liked the growth Eliza has as a character in the film and the growth she has with her family which is what really holds the film together. She has some really tender moments with characters like Nigel, Darwin, and Debbie though I do wish the latter was a bit longer since it was too short. But it's her growth by learning how to use her gift to talk to animals for good that really makes her character work in the film and I thought it was well handled. I also thought Debbie had some nice development too as her character is definitely a nagging and frustrated teenager who wants to have a normal life and I think it lends way to some nice little scenes where Debbie befriends a local Mbuti boy named Boko and learning about their culture. It's a nice development. Even the small moments when Nigel is in the film were special as I always love Tim Curry and he's terrific as usual in the role. I think the only characters that didn't work for me at all were the villains. Without spoiling it, I thought they came off as one-dimensional and predictable and it did bog down the film and climax a bit. I also thought the soundtrack at times was a little too much. I did enjoy the Paul Simon song "Father and Daughter" a lot though since I'm a fan of Simon, but some of the other songs on the soundtrack probably should've been replaced with some score since the little I heard I really liked.
Though, I did still enjoy "The Wild Thornberrys Movie". Despite its rushed pacing, the story works with some nice tender moments and funny scenes, some really good animation, and characters with some fun moments and good development. As far as animated movies based on shows go, I wouldn't call this one of the best, but I still think it's pretty good. I recommend it for those who like the show and even those curious enough to check it out. There are some fun wild adventures to be found here.