To paraphrase onetime Oscar host Chris Rock, "You want 'Madagascar' and all you can get is 'The Wild'? Wait."
Actually the Disney movie isn't all that bad but it's not all that good, either.
The biggest and most obvious problem with "The Wild" is its similarity to last year's "Madagascar."
Starring: Voices of Kiefer Sutherland, Jim Belushi, Eddie Izzard, Janeane Garofalo.
Director: Steve "Spaz" Williams.
Post-Gazette Family Film Guide review of 'The Wild' "The Wild" Web site
Its biggest and most obvious problem is its similarity to last year's "Madagascar," which focused on a lion, a zebra, a giraffe and a hippo from the Central Park Zoo who end up marooned in Madagascar. In this new computer-animated adventure, a young lion goes AWOL and five critters from the New York Zoo head for the wild to rescue him.
In "Madagascar," the hungry, homesick lion (voice of Ben Stiller) had to fight his natural instinct to want to eat his friend, a zebra. In "The Wild," the papa lion (voice of Kiefer Sutherland) has to tap into his natural instincts to find his missing son.
"The Wild" opens at the zoo where the mighty lion named Samson regales his boy, Ryan (Greg Cipes), with tales of beating back wildebeests with his raging roar. Ryan has a growl that's more house cat than jungle cat, and he wants to go to the wild to learn how to roar. After an angry exchange with his father, Ryan unwittingly finds himself on a ship bound for Africa.
Samson goes in search of Ryan with his pals: a squirrel (Jim Belushi), a giraffe (Janeane Garofalo), an anaconda (Richard Kind) and a koala bear (Eddie Izzard).
The ragtag rescuers corral a boat and trail the ship holding Ryan. Once in Africa, they encounter real wildebeests with a leader named Kazar (voice of William Shatner) who wants to be the hunter instead of the hunted, an active volcano and an odd affection for the visiting koala bear.
Animation in "The Wild" is uneven, with lions and much of the African jungle nicely rendered, but the snake, hippos and other creatures looking less realistic and cartoonish.
Some of the jokes or references -- Canadian immigration policies, Captain Bligh, an animal called a rock hyrax, dung beetles, prey vs. predators, prophecies -- may go over the heads of younger moviegoers. That won't keep them from appreciating the father-son bond that emerges, however.
The songs of "The Wild" can't compare with the "Madagascar" mix, which included the catchy "I Like to Move It, Move It" and clever use of "Stayin' Alive" and other well-known songs. Disney, like other studios, relies too heavily on celebrity voices, which can prove a distraction for adults trying to puzzle out why they recognize the voice of the snake ("Spin City" and "Mad About You").
The pitch for this movie was more than nine years ago, so it's not as if Disney copied DreamWorks' homework. These things happen with adult movies, as when two Truman Capote movies or Wyatt Earp westerns get the go-ahead at the same time.
So to paraphrase the paraphrase: True, "The Wild" is no "Madagascar," but if you can't get tickets to "Ice Age: The Meltdown," walking on "The Wild" side will do on a rainy or lazy afternoon.
Post-Gazette movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632.