In The Wild, Alex is the lion king of the New York Zoo, and he regales his son Ryan with tales of his prowess on the savannah in his pre-zoo days and tries to coach him in working on his roar. Feeling unable to measure up to his father, Ryan ends up running away and accidentally finds himself being shipped out of the zoo. Samson and a small handful of friends—Benny the squirrel, Bridget the giraffe, Nigel the koala and Larry the snake—escape from the zoo to rescue him, only they all find themselves on an unnamed tropical island, where a volcano is threatening to erupt.
There's really not much to say about The Wild's story; it's a G-rated, family movie—as in, made for kids, but reasonably amusing for adults—with few complications, and doesn't pretend to be otherwise. In a certain sense, I found that quite refreshing; there were no nudge-nudge wink-wink jokes to keep adults amused, no double entendres, no pop-culture references (save one, a riff on James Cagney in White Heat that echoes Rico's Little Caesar reference in Home on the Range).
As it turns out, that third act is the most engaging part of the film precisely because it's less realistic. On the island, our heroes stumble across a cult of wildebeests, led by the power-mad Kazar (William Shatner partly channelling Adam West and delivering the best performance of the film) and bent on turning the tables on the lions that terrorize them by becoming carnivores themselves. The situation and its parallel actions, the absurd dialogue and deliveries, and the cartoonier renderings of the wildebeests provide for some great laughs. Frankly, I wanted more of the film to be like that.
The truth is, Pixar and DreamWorks have nothing to fear from The Wild, and everything to fear from what The Wild stands for. The visuals and animation aren't as polished as a Pixar production, but they're 90% of the way there, and I'll bet that not going that extra 10%, plus geographic considerations (C.O.R.E. is located in Toronto, Ontario) kept the costs down. If anime has taught us anything, it's that creatively cutting corners and sticking to reduced budgets can pay off well, especially if it's done right. The Wild also hints at another intriguing aspect: cultural identity. There are scattershot, mostly innocuous Canadianisms throughout the movie, including vocal talent (Kiefer Sutherland as Samson, the aforementioned Shatner, and the brief appearance of Don Cherry are the most notable), some Canadian Geese sporting "eh" accents, and a late-night curling game between the animals at the zoo. I, as well as the other journalists in the cinema, responded to these references to Canadian culture; imagine how we would have responded if the animals had been at the Granby Zoo, located less than two hours away from the fps office.
Looking again at anime, we can see that it's possible to make successful movies that are culturally specific; some, like Miyazaki's work (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away in particular), are lauded because of that. But even outside of Japan, we're seeing a similar effect. For instance, a recent Indian feature starring the Hindu monkey god Hanuman was popular enough to warrant greenlighting a sequel six months later. Now imagine smaller studios combining these raw ingredients—"good enough" animation at a lower cost, with elements that resonate on a cultural level—with tighter, more varied stories, and you've got the potential to truly alter the animated-feature landscape. The Wild may not be what forces the change, but maybe, just maybe, it can be a catalyst.