So, a movie for kids — strictly for kids; more on that in a moment — that has already been released all around the world under the title Robinson Crusoe is about to open in the US as The Wild Life. (It arrives on VOD and DVD in the UK later this month.) Why the title change? Does Hollywood believe that Americans are too ignorant to recognize the name of one of the most classic of classic novels? Are Americans in fact too ignorant to recognize it? (I’m not sure which is worse.) It would be an exaggeration to say that this is even loosely based on the 1719 book by Daniel Defoe — they don’t have much more in common beyond the title — but c’mon: maybe leaving the movie alone as Robinson Crusoe might have inspired a few American children to pick up the novel later on (as perhaps it is doing elsewhere on the planet). The character’s name is barely mentioned in the film, so the title was just about all the prodding the movie could give kids to check out a classic. Does our dumbed-down world really need to be dumbed down further?
*pinches bridge of nose, tries to remain calm*
Possibly getting kids interested in literature is just about the only saving grace of this animated flick, apart from a general bland inoffensiveness as an electronic babysitter once it’s available to watch at home. Under any title, it is suitable only for the smallest children still undiscriminating enough to be distracted by bright colors, trite slapstick shenanigans of talking cartoon animals, and the sort of simplistic wordplay that presumes you’ve only just discovered idioms and the fact that words can have more than one meaning (“We’ll make them pay,” the feline villain cackles. “How much are we charging them?” her dimbulb sidekick wonders). Even kids old enough to be fans of the TV sci-fi action cartoon adventure Ben 10 — upper gradeschoolers, that is — are probably too old for this; not even the voice of Ben 10 himself, Yuri Lowenthal, as Crusoe’s voice will be a draw.
This isn’t so much Crusoe’s story as that of the animals on the small island upon which he is shipwrecked, including parrot Mak (the voice of David Howard), whom the human will later dub Tuesday (there is no manservant called Friday); pig Kiki (the voice of Lindsay Torrance), about whom many a joke about her being fat and eating so much will be flung; and others. (Oddly, there is only one of each kind of animal, so how this community sustains itself is a mystery.) All depictions of peril, such as the storm that stranded Crusoe, and all expressions of despair and loneliness, of which there are almost none anyway, come at purely toddler-appropriate levels, and the biggest moment of drama or surprise is when Crusoe comes to the conclusion that he had probably better build himself a shelter if he’s going to survive. Crusoe’s temporally incongruous worries about indoor plumbing — which did not exist at the time of wooden sailing ships and tricorn hats this is allegedly set during — does result in a made-to-be-a-theme-park-attraction water slide for the animals to enjoy, however. So there’s that.
*pinches bridge of nose harder*
The reputations of the Madagascar series and The Secret Life of Pets as exciting, funny, all-ages charmers about talking animals are secure. So there’s that, too.