Robinson Crusoe (aka The Wild Life) movie review: castaway… you know, for kids!

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Robinson Crusoe The Wild Life red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A bland electronic babysitter, suitable only for small children still distracted by bright colors, slapstick cartoon animals, and simplistic wordplay.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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*

Robinson Crusoe (aka The Wild Life) is blandly inoffensive as an electronic babysitter.
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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.

Robinson Crusoe (aka The Wild Life) is all trite slapstick shenanigans of talking cartoon animals.
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*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.

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Jim Mann
Jim Mann
Wed, Sep 07, 2016 2:58pm

Interesting that they decided to release it in the US under the name The Wild Life when for months they’ve been showing trailers for Robinson Crusoe.

MaryAnn Johanson
MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jim Mann
Thu, Sep 08, 2016 10:16pm

Really? Interesting…

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  Jim Mann
Thu, Sep 15, 2016 11:54pm

Personally, I blame all those Talking Heads fans…

Jonathan Roth
Jonathan Roth
Wed, Sep 07, 2016 4:10pm

I saw the trailer for this when I saw Kubo last week. I’ve said before that I love seeing CG animated movies in 3d, but the trailer was full of the most gratuitous 3d wankery I’ve seen in a long time.

RogerBW
RogerBW
Wed, Sep 07, 2016 5:06pm

So… the target audience for this is the same people who enjoyed Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending?

I suspect the the title change will have come from one of those tiny market research studies, where they ask a few people what associations they make with a given title, and TWL will have come out fractionally ahead of RC.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Sep 08, 2016 2:40am

That’s an oddly specific pair of comparison films. Why the random pot-shot at the Wachowskis? Not that they don’t kind of deserve it for Jupiter, but did you just have them on your mind for some reason?

RogerBW
RogerBW
reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Thu, Sep 08, 2016 9:20am

They were the first two films that came to mind where the primary draw was bright colours and moving objects. I didn’t even spot the connection until I’d thought of both of them.

MaryAnn Johanson
MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Sep 08, 2016 10:17pm

So… the target audience for this is the same people who enjoyed Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending?

No, the target audience is currently watching Peppa Pig cartoons.