“The Mild Life” would be a better, and certainly more accurate, title for this juvenile retelling of the Robinson Crusoe story, which despite including numerous action sequences, comes across as pedestrian and rather tepid. Very young children might be amused by it, but it’s doubtful that even their enjoyment will be unalloyed.
The title of the picture from Belgium’s nWave animation studio, outfitted with an English-language soundtrack provided by a largely unknown vocal cast (the best-known member is probably Yuri Lowenthal, the Crusoe, who provided the voice of Ben Tennyson in the later incarnations of the Cartoon Network’s popular “Ben-10” series), is perhaps the movie’s cleverest touch: it points up the fact that though Crusoe might be the central character, the focus is actually on the wildlife inhabiting the little island he lands up on after a shipwreck. The most notable figure in the menageries is Mak (David Howard), a parrot nicknamed Tuesday by Crusoe that desperately wants to explore the wider world (and narrates the movie). But other talkative critters include a tapir, an echidna, a pangolin, a goat, a kingfisher and a chameleon. After some initial reluctance they cozy up to the gangly, inept Crusoe and help him build a tree shelter and survive.
Unfortunately, the shipwreck has also deposited a couple of nasty cats on the island, who threaten the locals and Crusoe. Even after they’re forced onto a nearby mini-island, they breed and return with their equally ravenous brood of offspring. Eventually some pirates show up to rescue Crusoe, but in the end he finds the company of his animals more to his liking.
“The Wild Life” is technically pretty proficient. The animation is fluid and the images colorful (this is based on a viewing of the 2D version, rather than the 3D one that will also be available). But the storytelling is prosaic—even the three or four chase sequences, while energetic, lack verve—and the dialogue largely dull, with none of the adult-friendly zingers that American ‘toon factories regularly spice up their product with nowadays. The voice work is no more than okay (understandable given it’s basically a straight dubbing job, with no opportunity for improvisation in the recording booth), but it’s certainly passable.
It’s unlikely that anyone over the age of five or six will find anything remotely entertaining about “The Wild Life,” and certainly any cat fanciers in the audience will be annoyed by the depiction of all felines as rotten “ratters.” Even the youngest tykes, moreover, might not like the fact that Crusoe’s faithful dog dies in a fire in the early stages of the picture. That miscalculation might reflect the fact that the movie was made by Europeans, and might appeal more to their sensibility than to an American one.
Whatever the case, though, while not the disaster that “Norm of the North” (also a Lionsgate release) was, this charmless rewriting of Daniel Defoe’s classic adventure tale will probably send most viewers out wishing they had been back in the auditorium where “The Secret Life of Pets” is still playing.