The third movie in the trilogy and we get a big crossover of franchises. From the minds of Arlene Klasky and Gábor Csupó (the same people who brought you Rugrats) came The Wild Thornberrys, yet another popular 90’s Nickelodeon cartoon. This wacky kids adventure series focused on a kooky, environmentally friendly family that traveled around the world making wildlife documentaries. An admirable notion to be sure but I always felt the whole thing was a little too on the nose in all honesty. Trying to tick all the politically correct boxes so to speak.
The family consisted of the young Eliza who could talk to animals. Elder sister Debbie who is more of a regular teen in the sense that she likes more teenage girlie things like fashion, music etc…Marianne the mother, camera woman and editor of the family documentaries. Nigel the father, a zoologist, naturalist and the David Attenborough-esque host of the documentaries. Donnie, a feral boy raised by orangutans in a typical Tarzan manner, who is eventually discovered by the Thornberrys. And lastly Darwin the chimpanzee, the pet of the family with whom Eliza communicates with.
Now I never really watched the Thornberrys, I saw bits of it here and there but it just didn’t click with me. Its hard to pinpoint why as I’m not overly sure why other cartoons of the era did click with me. Whilst the whole cartoon did look very lush and exciting with its wild exotic locations, I think it was hard to relate with. None of the characters ever really grabbed me. I never really related to either of the young female characters as they were obviously aimed more at a female audience (which is fine). Donnie the feral boy was just stupid and annoying, Darwin was off putting simply because he was a chimpanzee and the mother character, again, wasn’t really relatable. The only character that I did kinda like was Nigel mainly because he was goofy and amusing (being voiced by Tim Curry also helped greatly).
But another reason the characters didn’t grab me was simply down to their horrible look/artistic design. Whilst much of the cartoon is nice to watch most characters were just bland or bizarre looking. The female characters were just generic looking frankly, apart from Eliza who was a bit different with red hair and braces. Darwin was an ugly chimpanzee, nuff said, and Donnie was just a slightly different version of Chuckie from [i]Rugrats[/i]. Whilst Nigel was the best character for me he was also the oddest looking character. This is fine but for some reason he was designed really oddly with a body that was completely out of proportions.
Anyway if you never saw the Thornberrys then this would instantly present a problem going into this movie. You didn’t necessarily need to know the backstory to the Thornberrys to enjoy this movie, but it did help. This is mainly down to simple things like, why is this girl talking to animals? Why is this Donnie kid acting like an animal? How come the chimp can talk…and only to one person? etc…
As for the movie and plot well its reasonable but not stunning. They don’t hang around trying to explain the backstory to everything as I already said, they do expect the bulk of people that watch this will be fans and know the score. So on one hand that’s bold, brave and kinda good. The plot is a bit too straight forward really though. The Thornberrys are working on a tropical island, the whole Rugrats clan go on a cruise vacation but end up in a rickety old boat instead. Naturally they hit a storm and get marooned on this tropical island where, once again, the babies get lost and end up meeting some of the Thornberrys. Yet again the parents have to find and save the babies with the help of the remaining Thornberrys.
In all honesty there are some quite harrowing moments for kids in this movie. When the Pickles, Finster’s, Carmichael’s and Deville’s get hit by a tropical storm at sea things do get a tad dark at one point. Obviously nothing bad happens but blimey it gets a bit edgy. Then again later on when the babies are all stuck within the Thornberrys minisub at the bottom of the ocean and running out of oxygen, things get really edgy. At this point its made quite clear that they’re all gonna die! Nigel starts reading stories to the babies to take their minds off the fact the oxygen is about to run out and they will all snuff it!
Most of the characters do the type of things they normally do, as you would expect. Chuckie is the comic relief and has plenty of duo time with Donnie. Tommy is brave, Phil and Lil bicker and argue, Angelica is greedy and bullies whilst Susie is a goody goody. All the parents do their usual parenting stuff, Stu being the best of the bunch as usual. The Thornberrys don’t really do all that much seeing as it is a Rugrats flick but Debbie’s valley girl persona is holey annoying and Nigel gets wasted with a case of amnesia which induces a child-like state…which is also kinda annoying. One big deal with this movie was the fact they got Bruce Willis to voice Spike the dog (yes they bring Spike everywhere). I mean sure Willis was and still is a huge star but I don’t see why they needed him just to voice the dog. Didn’t make much difference to anything, obviously just for the buzz.
Third times a charm? well not really unfortunately. Just like the previous two movies this isn’t a bad film, its just underwhelming, too formulaic. Don’t get me wrong it is a bit more off the beaten track which is good, the plot and what we see is more detached from basic reality which falls in line with the TV series (unlike the last two which were very grounded). We still aren’t getting any story based around the babies imagination but at least this plot feels more fanciful, not so straight laced. There are still annoying songs in here but luckily they are brief, shame about the awful cover of Police classic ‘Message in a Bottle’. Everything looks lovely and highly colourful but as usual there is much CGI. In the end it all feels a little bit standard with little effort put in to distinguish itself from the previous two films in terms of basic structure. The crossover was the only neat twist but I just wish they had used a better cartoon franchise like Hey Arnold!