Directed By: Cathy Malkasian, Jeff McGrath
Starring: Tim Curry, Rupert Everett, Flea
Tag line: "This Could Be The Beginning Of A Beautiful Adventure"
Trivia: This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song, for "Father and Daughter" by Paul Simon
Starting in the late '90s, the U.S. cable TV network Nickelodeon, which offers programming geared specifically towards kids, tried building a few feature films around their more popular animated shows. The results were mixed; 1998’s The Rugrats Movie was fun, as was its sequel, Rugrats in Paris, whereas 2002's Hey Arnold! The Movie was a dismal failure. But '02 also saw the release of The Wild Thornberrys Movie, and unlike its predecessors, the show itself featured a storyline that translated perfectly to the big screen.
For those unfamiliar with the series, The Wild Thornberrys followed the adventures of a young girl named Eliza Thornberry (voiced by Lacey Chabert), who, along with her family, lived in a souped-up RV. See, her father, Nigel (Tim Curry) hosted a television nature program, which was filmed and edited by his wife (and Eliza’s mother), Marianne (Jodi Carlisle). As you can imagine, their profession took them all over the world, visiting many exotic locales. Eliza’s older sister, Debbie (Danielle Harris), didn’t really enjoy life on the go, and wished the family would leave the wilderness behind and move back to civilization. Of course, if they did, they’d have had to figure out what to do with Donnie (voiced by Flea), a boy they found living in the wild and adopted as their own. Needless to say, Donnie, with his unkempt hair and untamed personality, would have probably stood out in a suburban setting.
Besides, Eliza possessed a very special gift that would’ve gone to waste in polite society. Due to her undying love for all creatures furry and small (as well as scary and big), a kindly Shaman empowered her with the ability to communicate with animals, allowing her to talk to rabbits, lions, and her new best friend, a chimp named Darwin (Tom Kane). There was, however, one condition: if Eliza told anyone about this “gift” of hers, she’d lose it forever!
That’s the show; now on to the movie, which opens in the wilds of Africa. One morning, as Eliza is playing with some baby cheetahs, one of the cubs is snatched up by poachers. Eliza tries desperately to save her young friend, but to no avail. What’s more, the danger she puts herself in attempting to rescue the cheetah shocks her parents, as well as her grandmother, Cordelia Thornberry (Lynn Redgrave), who’s visiting from England. Worried for her granddaughter’s safety, Cordelia recommends that she take Eliza home with her. Nigel and Marianne reluctantly agree, and as a result, Eliza is packed off to the UK and enrolled in one of the country’s finest boarding schools. Yet try as she might, Eliza can’t stop thinking about her cheetah friend. So, with the help of her snobbish roommate, she runs away from school and heads for the nearest port. Once back in Africa, Eliza meets explorers Sloan and Bree Blackburn (Rupert Everett and Marisa Tomei), who claim to love nature just as much as she does. But… do they?
The Wild Thornberrys Movie is jam-packed with adventure, something most kids will likely enjoy, and while portions of it may be a bit juvenile for their parents, the majority of the film is quite engaging even for older audiences. Also, unlike some of Nickelodeon’s previous efforts, The Wild Thornberrys Movie actually looks like a theatrical motion picture; the animation is a step up from what was featured on the TV show, and is more in line with the company’s early Rugrats entries. Finally, its story, about poachers killing animals for profit, is good for a lesson or two.
While not the best animated film ever made, The Wild Thornberrys Movie is certainly better than your average cartoon fare.