Film Review: The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)

*All reviews contain spoilers*
Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation. All screencaps are from my own copy of the film.

 

Cast
Alu Amina – Baka villager
Obba Babatundé – Boko
Bob Bergen – Minion
Brenda Blethyn – Mrs. Fairgood
Earl Boen – Gorilla
Alexandra Boyd – Victoria (Schoolgirl)
Kimberly Brooks – Tally
Billy Brown – Rhino
Jodi Carlisle – Marianne Thornberry
Malonga Casequelourd – Baka Leader
Lacey Chabert – Eliza Thornberry
Michael Chinyamurindi – Cart Owner
Jeff Coopwood – Tim (park ranger)
Jim Cummings – Minion
Tim Curry – Nigel Thornberry and Col. Radcliffe Thornberry
Colette Elimo – Baka villager
Rupert Everett – Sloan Blackburn
Flea – Donnie Thornberry
Melissa Greenspan – Sarah Wellington
Danielle Harris – Debbie Thornberry
Roger L. Jackson – Reggie and Thunder
Tom Kane – Darwin
Nsaka Kaninda – Baka villager
John Kassir – Squirrel
Inousca Kayombo – Baka villager
Jeanne Klimi – Baka villager
Eddie Korbich – Minion
Mata Mokwala – Baka villager
Didier M. Ngole – Ranger and Baka villager
Camille Ntoto – Baka villager
Anthony Okungbowa – Ranger
James Brown Orleans – Zebu (bull)
Brock Peters – Dr. Jomo Mbeli
Moira Quirk – Jane (Schoolgirl)
Lynn Redgrave – Cordelia Thornberry
Kevin Michael Richardson – Shaman Mnyambo
Crystal Scales – Cheetah Cubs
Charles Shaughnessy – Squirrel
Tara Strong – Schoolgirl
Cree Summer – Phaedra
Keith Szarabajka – Poacher
Lunkeba Tezo – Baka villager
Marisa Tomei – Bree Blackburn
B. Dido Tshimanga – Baka villager
Hynden Walch – Schoolgirl
Mae Whitman – Schoolgirl
Alfre Woodard – Akela
Additional voices provided by Victoria Hoffman, Saye Lah, Laraine Newman, Ethan Philips, Joanna Rubiner and Lauren Tom
Sources of Inspiration – Based on The Wild Thornberrys, an American TV series which ran from 1998-2004
Release Dates
September 8th, 2002 at the Toronto Film Festival in Canada (premiere)
December 8th, 2002 in Hollywood, California, USA (official premiere)
December 20th, 2002 in Canada and the USA (general release)
Run-time – 85 minutes
Directors – Cathy Malkasian and Jeff McGrath
Composers – Drew Neumann
Worldwide Gross – $60 million
Accolades – 13 nominations, including an Oscar nomination


2002 in History

Mount Nyiragongo erupts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, displacing an estimated 400,000 people and killing about 147
The Sierra Leone Civil War is brought to an end with a Commonwealth victory
Unfortunately, Ivory Coast enters its first civil war following a mutiny led by General Robert Guéï
The death of Jonas Savimbi also brings the Angolan Civil War to a close
Queen Elizabeth II of the UK celebrates her Golden Jubilee
Shortly afterwards, her mother passes away aged 101 and is buried in Westminster Abbey
South African Mark Shuttleworth becomes the first African space tourist
East Timor (or Timor-Leste) regains independence from Indonesia
The Igandu train collision occurs in Tanzania, killing 281 people in one of Africa’s worst rail disasters
The Rome Statute enters into force, bringing the International Criminal Court into effect
The African Union replaces the Organisation of African Unity
Members of terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah detonate a series of bombs in nightclubs in Bali, killing over 200 people in the worst terrorist act in Indonesia’s history
Several armed Chechens seize the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow for three days; the militants are eventually gassed, but this results in the deaths of well over a hundred civilians as well
The people of Gibraltar reject joint British-Spanish sovereignty in a referendum, remaining solely under British dominion
US President George W. Bush creates the Department of Homeland Security in response to 9/11, the largest governmental reorganisation since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947
Births of Davis Cleveland, Prince Felix of Denmark, Gaten Matarazzo, Levi Miller, Maddie Ziegler and Jacob Sartorius


 

Following on from our exploration of the Klasky Csupo series, The Wild Thornberrys, it’s time now for another foray into their back catalogue with a review of that show’s accompanying theatrical film, simply titled The Wild Thornberrys Movie. This one is rarely mentioned nowadays (much like the show itself), so I wanted to show some love to what I feel is a genuinely well-made production.

Turning popular animated TV series into films had been a practice since at least the 1960s, with numerous anime and Hanna-Barbera shows making the leap to the big screen in those early decades. By the 1980s, films based on even such seemingly minor properties as The Care Bears – a show so rooted in marketing that it was born out of a literal toy line – were able to trump behemoths like Disney at the box office, as proven when 1985’s The Care Bears Movie decimated their far more costly Black Cauldron. The success of this formula would only grow in the 1990s as the animation renaissance blossomed, and by then, every major studio was clamouring for a slice of the pie.

Paramount Pictures, like many of Hollywood’s major players, only really dabbled in animation back in the day; their most notable work in the medium by far was with the Fleischer brothers, whose studio they eventually seized and struggled to utilise under various named until its collapse at the end of the 1960s. In more recent years, they’ve profited from partnerships with studios like DreamWorks and in 2011 opened their own animation studio once again, but in the 1990s, their focus was on the rising star that was Nickelodeon.

Nickelodeon had plans to branch out into theatrical films as early as 1993, when they signed a deal with 20th Century Fox for that purpose. However, after Nick’s parent company, Viacom, bought Paramount in 1994 (yeesh, here we go again with the corporate shenanigans) the distribution rights were handed over to them instead. Having seen the success Disney were having with their films based on shows like DuckTales and Goof Troop, I bet Paramount was thrilled with this arrangement.

Nickelodeon Movies kicked off with their first film in 1996, a live-action version of Harriet the Spy, but it didn’t take long for Nick to turn to its many lucrative animated properties for further inspiration. In 1998, The Rugrats Movie debuted to surprising success, becoming the first non-Disney animated feature to gross over $100 million domestically and thus confirming the notion that there was money to be made in bringing popular TV characters to the silver screen. (By the way, I’ll be getting to all three Rugrats films down the line, probably next year).

This brings us to The Wild Thornberrys, which by the turn of the century had grown a healthy fanbase and looked like a prime candidate for the big screen transition. The positive reception of the second Rugrats film in 2000, along with the nomination of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius for the inaugural Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2001, likely cemented Nick’s faith in the formula, so production was soon underway on their next entry.

Naturally, with Nickelodeon Movies not being a major industry player, there’s almost nothing written about the production of The Wild Thornberrys Movie (although funnily enough, The Rugrats Movie actually got its own art book, which I’ll also be reviewing once we reach the film). Therefore, I’ll admit up front that my only source for this review (aside from what little I scraped out of Wikipedia) is an old article from Animation Magazine, which proved very helpful. I’m pleased to hear that the team took their work on the film seriously despite its humble television origins, and their efforts certainly paid off, making the resulting film look and feel far more cinematic than many other similar projects (the odd Goofy Movie notwithstanding). It’s also a nice change to be discussing a film with a female director for once, much as I wish this wasn’t notable enough to remark upon.

The Wild Thornberrys Movie was the fifth animated film to come out of Nickelodeon Movies, and the ninth overall. It was a modest success and did well with critics, thank goodness, but like so many earlier films it did suffer from stiff competition at the box office, with late 2002 proving to be a particularly strong period for family films. Over the years since, Nick’s movie studio has become best known for its many SpongeBob films, but it’s a shame that such early gems as this have been lost in the shuffle. So, before we return to the world of the big boys like Pixar and DreamWorks, let’s spend a few moments with the Thornberrys, and see if we can give their first theatrical outing some of the attention it so richly deserves.

 

Characters and Vocal Performances

Eliza looking at cheetahs at the end

To start things on a positive note, I liked the way the filmmakers handled Eliza here. I complained in my review of the show about how unpalatable Eliza could be at times, but she’s presented in a more sympathetic light in the film, expressing genuine remorse for her mistakes and enjoying a much warmer and more believable friendship with Darwin. I also have to give Nick props for keeping her design the same, braces, glasses and all – even now, it’s not often you see an animated heroine who looks this ordinary. How refreshing!

The conflict for the plot comes from an incident involving Eliza while she’s out on the savannah one day. She spots Akela, a cheetah she knows, and heads over to visit her and her cubs, challenging them to a race. As in many episodes of the TV series, however, the trouble starts when Eliza fails to listen to what the animals tell her – dismissing Akela’s warning about the dangers of the plains, she and the cubs quickly wind up caught in the spotlights of some poachers, which leads to one, Tally, being captured by them.

Eliza looking helplessly after chopper

You’ve gotta give the girl credit, though – when she messes up, there’s almost nothing she won’t do to make it right. This determination, born out of her genuine passion for animals and their welfare, is one of the most admirable things about Eliza’s character. Instead of watching helplessly as Tally is taken away, Eliza desperately tries to wrench the little cub away from the poacher, even dangling from the helicopter’s rope ladder to try and get to him. Her sister, Debbie, wryly remarks upon this daredevil nature of Eliza’s: “I couldn’t have had a sister who plays with dolls.”

Sadly, there’s nothing Eliza can do to rescue Tally at this moment, but she’s crushed when she spots Akela nearby, grieving for her lost cub. Demonstrating greater maturity than she did in the show, Eliza acknowledges that the catnapping was her fault and implores her parents to let her do something about it, but like many children, she fails to recognise her own limitations and has to be reminded of the danger she’s already put herself in. Then, in a fun call-back to the show, Debbie lets the cat out of the bag and tells their parents about some of Eliza’s earlier escapades, horrifying them (honestly, I don’t know how they never suspected this earlier – where did they think she was always sneaking off to?).

Eliza saying goodbye from plane

The upshot of all this is that Marianne is finally forced to carry out a plan she’d been debating over all through the series – for her own safety, Eliza is to be sent to boarding school. The film does lightly touch on the implied social issues of a girl whose friends are all animals, through her sadness at being separated from Darwin and grandma Cordelia’s pitying looks, but naturally we’re supposed to be against this so they don’t get too deeply into it. In reality, especially as I’ve gotten older, I can’t help siding with Cordelia to some extent; if it weren’t for the fact that Eliza can talk to animals, a little time in a more stable environment with human peers her own age would probably do her good.

Still, witnessing Eliza’s departure is a truly touching moment, especially as she says goodbye to her beloved father, Nigel. The two of them always had a close bond in the show, and while Nigel can’t deny the benefits boarding school would have for his daughter (having himself been educated in one), he’s clearly heartbroken to see her go. It’s no wonder this was the scene which got the film an Oscar nomination!

Eliza arriving at Lady Beatrice's

Interestingly, while Eliza does display some initial shyness upon arriving at Lady Beatrice’s school, she actually begins to warm up to life there after a while. It undoubtedly helps that Darwin sneaks into her baggage, but she still spends most of her early days at the school conversing with the local wildlife (such as squirrels) rather than her classmates, which of course gets her some funny looks and snide remarks. However, she takes it all in her stride and even manages to turn the situation around without getting offended – a sarcastic enquiry from one of the other girls leads into a genuine conversation, with Eliza soon finding herself a captive audience for her fantastic tales of life abroad.

With the exception of snobby Sarah, Eliza makes several real friends rather quickly, which is perhaps surprising for someone who’s had no settled home before. It’s easy to forget, but Eliza did not only meet animals during her travels across the globe; we see in the series that she does maintain a network of friends and pen-pals from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, so her strong social skills make more sense than you might think.

Eliza talking to classmates in her room

Despite a promising start to boarding school life, Eliza can’t forget her responsibility to Tally and, after a meaningful dream convinces her that he’s still alive, she sets out on the long journey back to Africa with Darwin. It’s just another example of that determination which characterises her; I for one would have been terrified at the thought of travelling to another continent without my parents at her age, but she hardly bats an eye, navigating various cities and modes of transport like she’s done it a thousand times. Which, come to think of it, she probably has.

Back in Africa, after another thrilling sequence in which Eliza leaps from a train to save a rhino shot by poachers, she finally reaches her family’s camp. At this point, Eliza has accepted that she’s not going to find Tally without help, so when she finds that her grandparents have arrived to take her back to England she immediately sets out again to find her parents, this time with Donnie in tow alongside Darwin.

It’s another important sign of development for Eliza that she does this (even if it does take some prompting from Darwin) as she rarely turned to her parents in the show, preferring to try and shoulder the burden alone until she became overwhelmed. She’s a very independent character and that’s an important quality to champion, but I’m glad the writers showed that relying on others at times is healthy, too.

Eliza huddled with Tally in trailer

Eventually, Eliza’s search for her parents brings her instead to the campsite of Sloan and Bree Blackburn, a pair of “wildlife veterinarians” who Eliza met earlier while rescuing the rhino. While they welcome her and the others, they seem perturbed by her talk of a planned poaching scheme in nearby Tempo Valley – at first, we’re led to believe this is out of worry for the animals’ safety, but as we and Eliza soon realise, all is not what it seems with these two.

After following a typically rambunctious Donnie into the Blackburns’ trailer, Eliza makes the surprise discovery that Tally is in there, locked in a dark cage and surrounded by bits of ivory and sinister-looking surveillance equipment. It turns out that Sloan and Bree are the poachers, leaving Eliza in a quandary as they’ve grown suspicious of her detailed knowledge of their plans.

At this point, the film highlights Eliza’s problem – while she is experienced at socialising with animals, she is rather naïve when it comes to people, having missed the warning signs when she first met the dastardly duo earlier on. (Seriously, did she not wonder if something was up when they said, “We were just at the river; there was no sign of poachers”?) Darwin calls her out on her recklessness and we get a glimpse of the old, immature Eliza as she snaps at him to “Just be quiet!”, but this is clearly more out of guilt as she knows it’s her fault and doesn’t need him to rub it in.

Eliza exposes her secret

Debbie, who has been out searching for her sister, then arrives at the campsite and is promptly taken hostage by Sloan the moment she reveals her connection to Eliza. This leads to a gripping, high-stakes face-off in one of the film’s most unsettling scenes, as a deranged Sloan threatens to throw Debbie over a cliff if Eliza doesn’t tell him how she knows so much about his plans. With the background of the show in our minds, we know what a huge sacrifice this is going to be for Eliza, but family comes first and she simply can’t let anything happen to Debbie, so with a heavy heart, she forces herself to confess that she can talk to animals.

As was threatened in the lore of the show, this admission causes her to lose her powers in a dramatic and destructive whirl of magic, but it is enough to scare off Sloan and Bree (for now) and Eliza is thus free to escape with the others.

Eliza what you're doing is awful

With Tally safely back in hand, a more formulaic film would now be over, but the writers wanted to do more than just what was expected with their story. In the process of recovering the little cheetah, Eliza has stumbled upon the poachers’ horrible plan to massacre thousands of elephants in Tempo Valley, so of course, being Eliza, she can’t simply turn a blind eye and is determined to save them. Yet with her powers now gone she enters her darkest hour, despairing at her inability to help.

Debbie, however, is truly touched by Eliza’ sacrifice, appreciating what her nature-loving little sister has given up to save her, so fittingly, it is she who steps in to give Eliza a pep talk. She reassures Eliza that even in the days before she had her powers, her love for animals was itself enough to save many lives – she even takes her usual criticism of Eliza not being “ordinary” and uses it more warmly to boost the girl’s self-esteem, which was a nice touch. Debbie’s faith in her restores Eliza’s faith in herself, and given how much the sisters fought in the show, I’m glad they showcased their closer side here.

Eliza leading the elephant herd

What follows is an excellent showcase of self-reliance and wit, as Eliza, armed with nothing but her encyclopaedic knowledge of animals and sheer nerve, manages to find a way to save the elephant herd. She incorporates things she’s learned from elephants in the past (like Phaedra in the opening scene) and also remembers the advice her father gave her about rising to a challenge, but even after she has been literally pulled from an elephant’s back by Sloan, the animals themselves are inspired by her actions (“Elephants know when you’re trying to help them!”) and work together to bring down the poachers’ chopper once and for all.

It’s a fantastic climax to an already thrilling film; I loved the way they tied in everything that makes this character who she is and made it the reason for her success – her love for her father, her bravery and compassion, her intelligence. Eliza is not a princess, a warrior, or even magically gifted in that moment – she is, as she puts it, “just an ordinary girl”, but this film shows us what an ordinary girl can be capable of. Great stuff.

Eliza gets her powers back
Eliza gets her powers back

It transpires that Shaman Mnyambo, the one who gave Eliza her powers in the first place, has been watching the events in the valley, and having seen what Eliza can do without them he feels she’s earned the right to get them back (albeit with the condition that Debbie is now bound to keep the secret too). This is satisfying, but far sweeter is the moment afterwards where Eliza sits contentedly with her father, musing on the elephants’ motivations and sharing his hopes that they will one day be able to live without fear of “man’s greed”. It is, perhaps, a touch on the nose when the leader of the herd comes over to return Eliza’s medallion (which she used during the rescue) as a thank you, but otherwise this happy ending feels just right – and the icing on the cake is seeing Eliza finally return Tally to his family later on.

As the film closes, we leave Eliza enjoying the status quo once more, even having a little fun with her new leverage over her sister as you’d expect of a 12-year-old (the conditions of the secret now apparently involve turning Debbie into a baboon should she spill the beans). Yet she’s not the same girl she was in the beginning; she’s learned to take responsibility for her actions, as well as her own capability as a person, with or without her powers. In short, she has begun to grow up, and that’s a journey that any young audience member can relate to.

Darwin in bed at Lady Beatrice's

By Eliza’s side through it all is her long-suffering simian pal, Darwin. You do feel for the guy, as right from the beginning of the film his friend’s antics are getting him in hot water as usual – he spends most of the opening scenes terrified of the cheetahs or running for his life from some poachers, but presumably for him that’s just Tuesday. The thing that always defined Darwin in the show was his loyalty; even when he would occasionally have his head turned by the prospect of a more luxurious lifestyle (as he does again here), he would always return to his friend, no matter what trouble she might get him into.

Thus, after the incident with the poachers when Eliza sadly breaks the news that she is to be sent to boarding school without him, Darwin is distraught and runs off into the night. Yet amazingly – and against all logic – he somehow manages to stow away in Eliza’s suitcase and gets to enjoy a few days of pampering himself at Lady Beatrice’s. It always tickled me as a kid to see how much more quickly he took to “civilised” life at the school than Eliza did, although inevitably he comes to blows with her stuffy roommate, Sarah, and the resulting food-fight in the cafeteria ends with him locked in the stables and Eliza in disgrace. Given how afraid Darwin always was of stepping out of his comfort zone, it must have taken real devotion on his part to risk his own safety just to keep Eliza company at her new school.

Darwin in the stables

Still, perhaps luckily for Darwin, the restless Eliza soon decides she can’t simply abandon Tally to his fate and busts her pal out of the stables so they can begin the long trek back to Africa. It’s safe to say the story takes a little artistic license at this point, as Darwin is miraculously able to disguise himself as Sarah simply by donning her uniform (yeesh, I know the girl’s no looker but come on), but at least it’s more realistic than him getting into the baggage hold unnoticed. Their story, in case anyone asks, is that “Sarah” has “that hairy disease” and needs treatment from a special doctor in Nairobi. That’s… huh. Ok?

Once back in Africa, Eliza continues to raise Darwin’s blood pressure by hurling herself off moving trains and rushing off into the jungle to look for the poachers, but he does have his limits and puts his foot down when Eliza’s plans get too dangerous. Eventually, she agrees that they need to find her parents for backup, leading to another long journey through the forest that ultimately brings them to Sloan and Bree.

Darwin scolds Eliza

Following the revelation that these two are the poachers, Darwin doesn’t hesitate to rebuke Eliza for trusting them so blindly, marking some development for his character as he was always more of a pushover in the show who rarely stood up to his wilful friend. However, in the heat of the moment Eliza loses her temper with him, which proves unfortunate as she gives up her power to talk to animals soon afterwards, rendering her unable to apologise.

It’s a credit to Darwin that he continues to look out for her in spite of this, although it’s revealed near the end that he was still mad at her. Their friendship runs deep enough that he understands she didn’t really mean it, and even Debbie observes how thoughtful the chimp is towards Eliza. She may be a bit hot-headed, but one of the first things Eliza does upon regaining her powers is to make amends with Darwin, so things work out alright in the end.

Given everything he’s put through in this film, one would hope that life became a little easier for Darwin in the future – although if the events of the show’s fifth season are any indication, he had plenty of “adventures” still to come.

Nigel hugging Eliza by campfire

Ah yes, here’s everyone’s favourite. The recently knighted Nigel Thornberry is back in his role as the loving, bumbling father of Debbie, Eliza and Donnie, and the filmmakers really play up this aspect of his character to its best effect. He and Eliza always did have a special bond (with Debbie generally closer to Marianne) and the show frequently explored this in episodes like Nigel Knows Best, Reef Grief and Bogged Down, but one thing they were rarely allowed was a quiet moment of simple bonding, as their episodes usually involved plenty of peril that made intimate conversation difficult.

In the film, Nigel must once again acknowledge his headstrong daughter’s tendency to endanger her life, but this time he and Marianne decide that it simply can’t continue – the risks are too great, and their daughter too precious to them. It’s a difficult decision for the couple to make, as we learn that they had always planned to keep the children with them “on the road”, but backed by Debbie’s tales of Eliza’s previous brushes with death and Cordelia’s convictions about the benefits of a structured education, they feel they have no choice. Nigel has gone up against poachers himself in his youth and understands Eliza’s strong feelings on the subject, but her safety has to come first.

Nigel helping Eliza into plane

One of the things fans always loved about Nigel was his sheer sincerity and good nature, and the film has an excellent scene just before Eliza’s departure which shows this off beautifully. Aware of his daughter’s grief and sadness over being separated from the family, he tries to lift her spirits with a parting gift – a medal he received during his own time in boarding school, which was awarded for bravery. (This same plot device came up in The Rugrats Movie, but I feel like it’s done better here). With this as an example, he encourages Eliza to face the challenge of boarding school head on and bolsters her confidence, but it’s clear the split is still going to be a wrench for both of them. His face as she gets into the plane speaks volumes about how hard he’s finding this, but he tries to keep up a smile for her sake, bless him.

Nigel spots the poachers

After this, it’s a while before Nigel and Marianne have anything else to do. Not until they get word of Eliza’s return to Africa – and subsequent disappearance – do they get actively involved in the plot again, and during their search for their children, they accidentally stumble upon the very poaching plot that Eliza is busy trying to foil. Showing us just where Eliza gets her ingenuity from, Nigel teams up with his father to perform a little sabotage of his own, delaying the explosives long enough to give Eliza a chance to do her thing and turn the herd around.

Once the day has been saved, Nigel then gets another quiet, reflective moment with Eliza as they look out over the animals they’ve saved, with the return of the medal poetically proving Nigel’s point from earlier about Eliza’s capabilities. Their shared love of animals has always been at the heart of their bond, and it’s lovely to see that explored in more detail in this story.

Nigel sits with Eliza after elephant rescue

It’s worth mentioning, for fans of the character, that Nigel is at his most serious and least wacky here, but that’s definitely a good thing. One-note characters are no fun, and it was about time that Nigel was given a chance to spend some quality time with his children; while his competence as a parent was never in any doubt, the nature of his job tended to keep him away from his kids a lot in the show and could make him seem rather oblivious. After watching this, you understand fully why Eliza is the person she is and know that she’ll grow up to be one dedicated naturalist.

Marianne says how do you know Colonel

The film marks something of a turning point for the girls’ mother, Marianne, who during the show was constantly in conflict with herself over whether or not she was raising her children properly. The film takes the interesting tack of paralleling her experiences with Akela’s, demonstrating the universal emotions of motherhood regardless of species – seeing both mothers desperately trying to reach their “babies” during the helicopter chase really hits home, and helps the audience to understand why Eliza is so anxious to get Tally back.

Marianne on bike crying my baby

At the end of another hard day and facing pressure from her mother-in-law, Marianne finally decides that sending Eliza to a boarding school is the only way to keep her safe; having inherited her mother’s indomitable spirit, Marianne knows there’ll be no stopping Eliza from sneaking off to find the poachers if they keep her there. Still, she’s obviously torn up about it, seeking solace from Nigel and almost too choked up to speak as she bids her youngest daughter goodbye.

Marianne talking to Nigel in bedroom

Like any good mother, Marianne just wants what’s best for her children, and her decision to send Eliza away continues to bother her throughout the rest of the film, particularly after she learns that Eliza has come all the way back by herself and gone missing. Debbie and Donnie might be hard work in their own ways, but at least Marianne knows where they are – that is until they go off in search of Eliza.

As you get older, you come to sympathise with the amount of stress Marianne must be under for most of the film, what with all of her children getting lost at one point, but as the other characters keep telling her, she really is an excellent mother. Radcliffe points out that she has raised them to be skilful and self-sufficient, knowing just the way to truly reassure her with the same tact as his son, and with her family’s help she does eventually find them all safe and sound at the end.

I always enjoyed Marianne in the show, and I just wish she’d had a few more moments to showcase her badassery in the film, as she feels a bit under-used. Also, why has she randomly been turned into a strawberry blonde?

Debbie tells Donnie a bedtime story

Eliza’s older sister, Debbie, is reluctantly dragged into the adventure about halfway through the film as events begin to spiral, but it’s only then that she’s really able to shine. In the first half of the film, the writers don’t seem to have known what to do with her, so her “Valley Girl” shtick is amped up to eleven and she spends most of her early scenes laying around moaning and sulking, which is admittedly annoying. Debbie was a very polarising character with the fanbase, with some loathing her for her bad attitude and catty way of dealing with her family, but thankfully she doesn’t stay this way for the whole story.

Debbie’s most notable contribution in the film’s first half is to blow Eliza’s cover after the cheetah incident, revealing to their shocked parents that Eliza regularly gets herself into these situations everywhere they go. This is seemingly done out of a petty desire to get her sister into trouble, but it utterly backfires when it is decided that Eliza will be sent to live in England instead – for Debbie, such stability is something she’s always dreamed of, so she immediately becomes jealous. (Her grandmother rather unkindly tells her that it’s “much too late for {her},” but to me, that just sounds like “too expensive”!)

Debbie hugging Eliza goodbye

Still, even here when she’s at her worst, we still get glimpses of Debbie’s inner softie as she hugs her sister goodbye; she covers it well with her ramblings to Eliza about buying her lots of cool things in London, but you can see she’s briefly emotional as they part. Once Eliza’s safely ensconced at Lady Beatrice’s, Debbie becomes rather depressed, especially when she hears that her sister is making actual friends, although considering the show did already give Debbie a chance at that life in the episode Pack of Thornberrys, it’s a little odd that they played up this angle so heavily here.

Eventually, of course, Eliza comes back, which utterly enrages Debbie since, from her perspective, Eliza is throwing away a life she desperately covets. When the girl stubbornly walks out of camp to go after their parents, Debbie decides to pursue her on the Congo-Com, a motorbike and sidecar that she has been expressly forbidden to drive. It’s only after this that Debbie begins to come into her own.

Debbie with the Baka people

Unsurprisingly, Debbie soon gets herself lost in the dense tangle of the Congo rainforest and is nearly attacked by some hogs, but she’s then saved and taken in by a group of local Baka people (known in the past by the controversial term “pygmies”). Only then does Debbie’s kinder, more inquisitive side come to the surface, as we see her gratefully accepting the Baka’s help and taking pains to communicate with them, despite the language barrier. Of particular note is a young chap named Boko, who quickly recognises how out of her depth she is in the forest and decides to accompany her (with a little prodding from the village leader).

Debbie giving Boko her watch in the village

It takes a little persuasion as Debbie knows how dangerous anything involving her sister is likely to be, but once Boko’s proved his ability to tackle anything, the two become quite a team, combining Debbie’s driving with Boko’s tracking skills to work their way closer to Eliza. However, once they finally find her at Sloan and Bree’s, they’re not quite prepared for the poachers’ ferocity and are taken by surprise, with Debbie coming awfully close to dying a gruesome death before Eliza gives up her secret to save her. It’s a truly disturbing scene, one of those moments you can imagine all too easily playing out in real life as Debbie grapples with the much larger Sloan, screaming and choking all the while.

Debbie under attack from Sloan

Given the intensity of the attack, it’s no wonder Debbie is grateful to Eliza after realising what her sister did to protect her. Thrust out of her comfort zone and with all her usual walls torn down, Debbie opens up for the first time in the film and shares a few scenes of genuine compassion with Eliza, being the one to reassure the girl of her own ability and giving her the boost she needs to face the poachers again. There were several moments like this included in the show, but I think it was especially important to include one here to redeem Debbie, given how bratty she was being at the start.

Debbie reassuring Eliza

During the climax, Debbie reunites with Boko and tries frantically to reach her sister, watching helplessly as she’s tossed out of a helicopter yet again and nearly drowns. For all her griping about Eliza, it’s plain that Debbie does care deeply for her and would be devastated to lose her, so it’s an uplifting moment when the pair are reunited again after Shaman Mnyambo saves Eliza.

Debbie saying goodbye to Boko

I also liked that the filmmakers took a moment to wrap up Debbie’s relationship with Boko, as many other mainstream films with this many characters would simply discard him once he’d served his purpose. Having become fast friends, Debbie bids a fond farewell to Boko as he sets out to return to his village, even making him a gift of her waterproof watch since she knows he likes it (for someone as materialistic as Debbie, that’s quite a gesture). This is what truly distinguishes Debbie from the legions of other Valley Girl stereotypes; she could be tactless and bratty at times, but deep down, she had her priorities straight and could be relied upon when it really mattered.

Eliza taunting Debbie about becoming a baboon

That’s not to say that her relationship with Eliza becomes unrealistically mushy after their latest adventure. Now armed with the knowledge of Eliza’s powers, Debbie essentially picks up where she left off, except that she no longer bats an eyelid at seeing Eliza rolling around with some cheetah cubs. Only when Eliza mischievously reveals (truthfully or not) that Debbie must keep her secret lest she turn into a baboon does the teen lose it, although she quickly loosens up and dances with her sister after a nearby troop of the creatures accidentally turn on the radio. As we see in the show’s final season, Debbie and Eliza did seem to be maturing together at last, with the promise of a less… tumultuous relationship in the future.

Donnie dancing in tree with baboons

Now we come to Donnie, the youngest of the Thornberry clan and always the least utilised. Until he got a special devoted to his backstory in the fourth season, Donnie was always something of an enigma in the show, usually relegated to the role of comic relief. To be honest, that’s pretty much his only role here, too, which is a little disappointing, especially since this is meant to be set after his official adoption into the family (I think).

The main problem is that, being so young, Donnie is only really able to contribute to the story when he’s with Eliza and Darwin; in the show, he was otherwise usually left under the care of Debbie, which happens again in the film. Given the requirements of the plot, Donnie is separated from his sister for much of the film (it would have been frankly ridiculous to have him stow away with Darwin too, so I’m glad they didn’t go down that route), but this means that he doesn’t really have much to do beyond barging into the film every now and then and doing something silly to make the little kids in the audience laugh. He does get one nice scene of bonding with Debbie as she reads him a bedtime story, but that’s about it.

Donnie holding the keys to shark cage

Only after Eliza returns is Donnie able to tag along at last, at which point he’s put to his usual task of running off and inadvertently leading Eliza to clues that help her on her way. First, Donnie is found annoying the gorilla who happens to have witnessed the poachers setting up an electric fence in Tempo Valley; later, he then runs rampant inside Sloan and Bree’s trailer and winds up helping Eliza find Tally there. Yet none of this is deliberate, and you never get the sense that Donnie is wilfully contributing towards the story in any way. I suppose he is only five, but still.

Donnie dancing with baboons at the end

At least the writers left him out of the most dangerous parts (he doesn’t witness the traumatic encounter between his sisters and the poachers, being tied up in the trailer at the time) and something about his wild energy in the big dance party ending is comforting, as it reassures the viewer that things have truly returned to normal. However, if you’re a particular fan of Donnie, I’d recommend looking up his four-part origin special, as he’s given far more weight and focus in that.

Cordelia sitting in camp with NigelRadcliffe greets Debbie

This film marked the debut of Eliza’s paternal grandparents, Col. Radcliffe and Cordelia Thornberry, since the two-part Sir Nigel special that was supposed to lead up to the events of the film wound up being released after it, for some reason. In the show, it was Marianne’s parents, Frank and Sophie, who got the most focus, so it’s a nice change to see Nigel’s for once.

It was also crucial to the plot to include Cordelia in particular, as she turns out to have been the most active proponent of sending the girls to a boarding school from the beginning. Upon witnessing her granddaughter nearly dying after falling out of a helicopter, it’s understandable that she begins to push for Nigel and Marianne to consider the girl’s safety, even though she did come across as rather shrill and unlikeable when I watched as a kid. Now, I’m on her side; you can see the concern in her face as she watches the helicopter debacle unfold, and her anger is born out of perfectly reasonable fear for her grandchild. Nigel and Marianne can’t put up a good argument, so they agree to her plan and arrange for Cordelia to take Eliza back to England with her.

Cordelia boards the plane

It’s really rather good of Cordelia to take the trouble to arrange the whole thing, although one suspects she may have had this planned for quite some time, just waiting until she could win over Eliza’s parents. Yet even more remarkable is her reaction to the news that Eliza has run away from the school and gone back to Africa; with true British spirit, she simply packs up her best china, rallies her husband and jolly well follows her, parachuting back into the Thornberry camp with a plan to send Eliza straight back “the moment she arrives”. She and Radcliffe are much more intrepid than their outward appearances would suggest, probably because of the colonel’s background in the RAF – as he says himself, “They don’t call me colonel for my chicken recipe!” (I swear I only got that joke as I was writing this, it’s brilliant).

Radcliffe triangulates a position

Once Radcliffe arrives on the scene, he brings just the sort of comforting presence to the film that you’d expect of a grandfather. It’s easy to see where Nigel gets his good nature from; the two are identical in many ways (even sharing the same voice actor) and Radcliffe has the same knack for cheering the others up when their spirits are flagging, taking the whole episode in his stride and even finding humour in it – such as when he chuckles gleefully at the trouble “Cordy” is going to be in once Marianne finds out Eliza has run away. Later, his old military tactics come in handy when he helps Nigel sabotage the poacher’s explosives with a handy bit of wire-cutting, not to mention using his cartography skills to triangulate a position for them to rendezvous at in the valley.

Radcliffe and Cordelia’s presence adds a great deal of character to the film, and considering how rarely older figures like these are given anything to do in animated films, I love that the writers here chose to actively incorporate them into the adventure. Even for such minor roles as these, they took the time to flesh them out and give them proper, layered personalities, showing an attention to detail that really pays off when you watch the finished product.

Akela talks to Eliza at the end

Eliza plays with cheetah cubs
Tally in the middle with the tufty fur

That also applies to Akela, the mother cheetah whose cub plays such a key role in the plot. In the film, it is established that Eliza is an old acquaintance of Akela’s, which is interesting as her only interaction with cheetahs in the show was not at all a positive one; there, another mother (roughly voiced by the ever-versatile Jodi Benson) nearly killed Eliza, so her friendlier relationship with these cheetahs is a definite improvement.

We learn in Akela’s first scene just how seriously she takes her role as a mother, when she gives Eliza the fateful warning not to lead the cubs past a particular acacia tree. Eliza, young and careless, doesn’t listen and leads them too far out, then pays a terrible price as she watches Tally get snatched up by the poachers. A horrified Akela races after the helicopter and manages to sink her claws into the poacher’s jacket, but she’s unable to hang on and is soon left sprinting after them from below. As the chopper disappears into the night with her precious cub, Alfre Woodard packs a world of emotion into Akela’s two simple words: “My baby!” You can feel her anguish, and so can the guilt-ridden Eliza.

Akela looking helplessly after chopper

Akela doesn’t appear again until the very end, when she is reunited with her beloved Tally at last, but it’s worth stopping to think about the pain she must have gone through in the intervening weeks, as all hope of recovering her cub faded to nothing. Her utter disbelief upon seeing Tally again tells us how hopeless she’d become, and her gratitude outweighs any ill feelings she might have held towards Eliza over the incident, so glad is she to have him home and safe again.

Tally looks out of chopper

Tally is the only one of Akela’s cubs to be given a distinct personality, but that’s fine, given that he’s the only one who has any real part to play. When Eliza first finds the cheetahs, Tally is as happy and playful as any human little boy, boasting about his increased speed and eager to race her on the savannah. Like her, he doesn’t take his mother’s concerns about the dangers out there seriously, but her warnings soon become all too real as he finds himself snatched up by the poachers.

From this point on, Tally essentially becomes a MacGuffin, the driving motivation for Eliza that brings her back across two continents and pits her against the ruthless Sloan and Bree. Even after Eliza has recovered him, there’s little Tally can contribute given his age, but he serves his purpose – small, cute and all alone, we root for him to get back to his mother throughout the story and it is a deeply cathartic moment when he does.

Tally with Eliza in the trailer

Tally’s best moment comes when Eliza first finds him again in the poachers’ trailer. Aside from the joy of the reunion, the scene also gives us a glimpse of his personality that really helps get you on his side; far from being a shrinking violet, the tiny cub growls angrily at Bree as she wrenches him out of Eliza’s hands, showing little fear of the people who’ve held him captive in a dark cage for weeks. It’s rather impressive for such a young tyke. He’s also able to bite through Eliza’s bonds in time for her to get outside and rescue Debbie, so that’s something.

Sloan and Bree in doorway of trailer

Now, it’s about time we covered these poachers, after discussing them from the perspective of half the other characters. Like Disney would so often do in their films a decade later, the writers took the approach of concealing the poachers’ identity for much of the film, creating a little extra narrative tension with their twist reveal at the end of the second act. Watching it as an adult, it’s pretty easy to spot the twist before it happens due to the many clues scattered through the earlier scenes (there’s a particularly revealing shot of Sloan during the initial helicopter chase that sort of gives the game away), but as a kid, I remember it being genuinely shocking.

Sloan and Bree as veterinarians

When Eliza first meets Sloan and Bree Blackburn, she has just been interrupted on her way back to her family’s camp by the sight of a wounded rhino, another would-be poaching victim. Moments after her daring leap from a train to help him, the couple’s sleek grey campervan arrives on the scene, and Sloan introduces himself and his wife as “wildlife veterinarians” as they quickly rush to aid Eliza with the rhino.

Even here, there are numerous signs that something’s up; the pair’s almost instant arrival implies that they were following the rhino all along, and Sloan isn’t as good an actor as Bree, showing unusual interest in the knife Eliza finds and even looking visibly disappointed for a few seconds as the rhino is carted away to a sanctuary. Yet Eliza fails to see any of it, too ready to see the best in these people because they profess to love animals as much as she does.

Sloan and Bree watch Eliza in their camp

Much later, Eliza stumbles upon them once again while looking for her parents, but unluckily for her, she also chooses this moment to realise that the poachers may be targeting the elephants in Tempo Valley… unaware of the company she’s in. While Sloan and Bree keep up their little act at first, Eliza’s prying eventually becomes too much; soon, she has found Tally locked inside their trailer, at which point all pretences are dropped and the nefarious couple’s true motives become clear.

Sloan taunts a captive Eliza

Donning leather jackets and losing their friendly smiles, the pair become quite frightening from this point on, taking the “realistic” rather than “hammy” tone and feeling believably corrupt and nasty. Bree turns out to be something of a modern day Cruella De Vil, viewing little Tally as nothing more than a potential fur coat, but it is Sloan who truly steals the show with his viciousness. After menacing Eliza for a while inside the trailer, trying to draw out the source of her information on his plans, he then takes a teenager hostage and openly threatens to kill her if Eliza doesn’t cooperate.

Sloan dangling Eliza from chopper

It’s scary to see the lengths these two are willing to go to just for a bit of contraband ivory, seeming to lose all semblance of sanity as the climax reaches its peak. As you watch Sloan roaring in fury at Eliza and dangling her from his helicopter, you wonder what on earth went wrong in these people’s lives to make them so monstrous. How did they get into a position where they’ve got so little to lose that they’re willing to murder children for money? Are they that desperate? It’s chilling to think about.

Thankfully, their plans are foiled in the end by a combination of efforts from Eliza and her family, with the final blow being dealt – fittingly – by the very targets of their malice, the elephants themselves. That was always one of my favourite scenes as a kid, watching the massive creatures literally pulling the poachers’ chopper out of the sky, although this being a family film, they’re not allowed to actually finish them off. Instead, they wind up being carted off to prison by the authorities, although that raises the question of what Shaman Mnyambo is planning to do about them, since they now also know about Eliza’s powers…

Boko sitting in Congo-ComBoko standing with Baka leader

Among the minor players, some of the most significant are the Baka tribespeople that Debbie encounters in the forest while looking for Eliza. One of the younger members of the group, Boko, takes a shine to Debbie and watches out for her, apparently asking permission from his elders to have her stay the night with them (I don’t know if I have any Lingala-speaking readers who could translate). In the morning, he provides her with some local breakfast, and once her bike has been recovered from the swamp she crashed it in, she returns the favour with a can of soda; while neither particularly enjoys these “delicacies”, they pretend for the sake of politeness.

However, it quickly becomes apparent to the Baka that Debbie has no idea how to navigate the forest, so the leader of the village assigns Boko to accompany her, a very generous gesture considering she’s a complete stranger. As mentioned above, he and Debbie become fast friends and work together to track down Eliza, getting along famously despite the language barrier (although Boko does pick up a few words of English with remarkable speed).

Boko fighting Sloan

When Boko and Debbie are attacked by the poachers, the young hunter wastes no time in running to his new friend’s rescue, although he is physically outmatched by the much larger Sloan and takes a painful-looking hit to the head. In the ensuing tornado caused by Eliza’s powers being taken away, Boko is then blown off into the forest as a worried Debbie prays for him to be alright, but he’s tougher than he looks and soon finds her again in Tempo Valley, where he stays with her until all of her family members have been recovered. They share a last, warm embrace, and then Boko’s heading back home to his people, but Debbie clearly won’t forget the help he gave her.

African cart owner

I’m so happy that the filmmakers took the trouble to include some actual African characters in this African-set story, in contrast to Disney with The Lion King and Tarzan. What’s more, they did the research necessary to portray the Baka villagers accurately and respectfully instead of relying on stereotypes; there’s no underestimating the importance of that, especially given that they were depicting a group who likely never saw the film at all and would thus have not been able to complain about their portrayal. The Baka are not the only Africans featured in the film, either, with the filmmakers choosing to include a variety of background characters from all walks of life, showcasing the diversity of the African peoples in a medium where they are still criminally underrepresented.

Shaman Mnyambo rescues Eliza

On that subject, let’s talk for a moment about Shaman Mnyambo. I didn’t mention him in my review of the show as he wasn’t a recurring character, but let’s just say that there were some… issues with his depiction back then, from his sole appearance in the season two episode Gift of Gab. For starters, he looked like this:

Thornberrys Gift of Gab

Oh dear. This isn’t a particularly comfortable image; he may only be a cartoon character, but between the obesity, the grass skirt, the broken teeth and the bone through his nose, this unflattering portrayal of the Shaman in his original incarnation has more than a whiff of the old racist caricatures of the 1920s about it. He doesn’t even look African, with his design likely based more on stereotypes of the Papuans of Indonesia, if anything.

The filmmakers must have recognised the insensitivity of this design when it came to bringing the Shaman back for the film, so he has been updated to look less like some olden-time “savage” and more like a real African tribesman (roughly, anyway). More importantly, his personality also received an overhaul; in the show, he was a selfish and greedy slob, but here he is presented more in the vein of a proper shaman, wise and caring. I get the feeling that this character might still be problematic in some ways due to his function in the plot as a “Magical Negro”, but it’s still a step up from his earlier appearance.

Eliza dreams of Shaman Mnyambo

Mnyambo’s main function in the plot, outside of restoring Eliza’s powers at the end, is to appear to her in a dream (or a vision) to encourage her to return from England to Africa and find Tally. His words are what convince her the cub is still alive and she sets out immediately, but she’s not actually reunited with the Shaman until after her daring rescue of the elephants much later. They greet each other like old friends, and true to his more mischievous portrayal in the show, he is presumably the one who suggests the penalty of a baboon transformation to ensure Debbie’s cooperation.

Sarah showing off her perfume

Funnily enough, the African characters are not the ones most susceptible to stereotyping in this film. To my great amusement as a Brit, it is Eliza’s plummy, upper-crust British boarding school chums who bear the brunt of it, with none more ruthlessly handled than her roommate, Sarah Wellington. (Perhaps I’m just not posh enough, but I’ve never encountered anyone with that surname).

Even Sarah’s supposed friends know that she “thinks she’s the bee’s knees,” something we quickly learn for ourselves the moment she swans in and introduces herself like the Queen of Sheba. Miss Wellington is clearly not pleased with the new living arrangements and doesn’t hesitate to put the American firmly in her place, outlining some rigid ground rules and also sneaking in a little boast about her wealth, as if that will ensure Eliza’s respect. Her open disgust at the thought of Eliza handling her things would intimidate a meeker kid, but Eliza, having been home-schooled and raised away from such petty social strife, simply looks on rather bemused as Sarah prattles on, making the girl’s pompousness look every bit as ridiculous as it really is.

Sarah regards Eliza coolly during dinner

Sarah is basically Lady Beatrice’s version of Regina George (even confronting Lacey Chabert), a spoilt, self-absorbed little rich girl who’s used to having everybody wrapped around her little finger. At first, her posse of gal pals rally round obediently and ostracise Eliza as they’re expected to, making nasty remarks about her hygiene and home life in the way only children can. However, Eliza soon turns the tables on Sarah when the other girls begin to talk to her properly and find themselves spellbound by her stories of life in the wild; Sarah’s obvious jealousy over this is rather sad, in a way, although she’s honestly so full of herself that it’s hard not to find it funny.

Things come to a head when Sarah finds an “ape” wearing her monogrammed uniform, at which point she initiates a full-scale food-fight in her attempts to get it back. Apparently, Sarah holds a rather esteemed position at the school, as the incident is quickly glossed over (“I’ve been at Mrs. Fairgood’s filling out a report”), but she is further displeased to return to her room and find Eliza holding a get-together with her friends (who have begun to treat her more coolly in the wake of Eliza’s acceptance).

Sarah helps Eliza

To top it all off, Sarah is then awoken in the middle of the night by Eliza hurriedly throwing her things into a backpack and babbling about going back to Africa. It’s been a long day, and prissy Sarah is all set to turn Eliza in – until the girl wisely points out that helping her leave would mean Sarah gets the room all to herself again. At that, Sarah becomes only too helpful, even paying for Eliza’s ticket back to Africa and thus finally finding a selfless use for her riches. They may have had their differences and I doubt the two will become pen-pals anytime soon, but at least Sarah came through for Eliza in the end… even if it was just to get rid of her.

Jane and Victoria talk to Eliza

Sarah’s posse includes Jane, Victoria and a few other unnamed schoolgirls, all of whom start out rather snooty and gossipy until Eliza wins them over. Their portrayal is a telling commentary on how easily led kids can be, with the group quickly switching allegiances as the two dominant personalities of Sarah and Eliza clash. That being said, they do turn out to be quite good friends to Eliza in the end, listening to her story about Tally with sympathy and even offering to help out in some way if they can, although it turns out the only help Eliza needs is financial, forcing her to turn to Sarah as the richest of the bunch.

Mrs. Fairgood scolds Eliza outside stables

Lady Beatrice’s is run with a seemingly tight fist by Mrs. Fairgood, a stern and forbidding woman who is a basic pastiche of all the standard British stereotypes about us being obsessed with manners and “proper” behaviour. She’s outraged by the havoc Eliza causes at dinner, not to mention the fact that she was able to sneak a literal chimpanzee into the school and disguise him as a student, and it’s implied that she knows Cordelia Thornberry personally, as she knows her habits well enough to anticipate her reaction to Eliza’s transgressions. While this character comes across as rather scary when you watch this as a kid, as you get older it’s easy to sympathise with this frazzled woman – after all, what would you do if a student snuck a wild animal into your school and threw a food-fight?

Jomo saying goodnight all

It’s worth making mention of Dr. Jomo Mbeli, who makes a small cameo early in the film after Eliza’s mishap with the poachers. Having made a couple of appearances in the show, Nigel’s best friend was a welcome call-back and a reassuring presence at the end of a tense action sequence, and Eliza continues to reference her connection to him later in an attempt to secure help from the authorities. Jomo’s inclusion is a trifling detail, but it helps to make the film feel more connected to the overall world of the series – as well as providing another role for an African character.

Phaedra with Eliza and DarwinEliza talks to ReggieDarwin talks to Thunder

Finally, to finish this lengthy section, let’s quickly cover a few of the many animal characters. Naturally, the animals were usually at the heart of the show’s plotlines, and they play various significant roles here too.

Outside of the cheetah family, the more important ones include Phaedra, an old elephant friend of Eliza’s who serves as another call-back to the show and provides some useful advice to her human pal on how to control an elephant’s behaviour, something that proves valuable to Eliza in the climax. There are also Reggie and Thunder, a squirrel and Clydesdale, respectively, whom Eliza meets in England; Reggie and his friends offer her a sympathetic ear once she’s plied them liberally with snacks, and the genial Thunder looks out for Darwin during the chimp’s few hours’ stay in the stables. (Nice touch making the Clydesdale Scottish, by the way).

Eliza talking to rhinoEliza talks to the gorilla

Back in Africa, we also have the unnamed rhino who puts a face on the poachers’ victims and provides the audience (if not Eliza) with some valuable clues about their identity. Then there’s the similarly unnamed gorilla who Eliza and co. find in the forest; he provides them with some useful information on the poachers’ activities and tells them the quickest way to reach the valley, although this knowledge later gets Eliza into trouble when the poachers wonder how she can know so much. Last but not least, we have Zebu, a kindly bull who graciously invites Eliza and Darwin to sneak aboard the cart he’s pulling on their way back to the Congo.

 

Animation

There was a key difference in the handling of the animation in the film compared to the TV series. Thanks to the bigger budget, the team were able to do the rough animation – the layouts – in their Los Angeles studio, rather than sending the work overseas as they usually did. Co-director Cathy Malkasian explained that by doing this, they had “a lot more control over the acting”, while show creator Gábor Csupó added, “We wanted to create a different look – just enough to keep the same style but bring it to a more rendered, more detail-oriented presentation”.

Normally, when an international team work on an animated series, a group of “timers” will work out the number of frames required for the action and then send those instructions to the overseas animators. However, as Malkasian noted, “there will always be something lost in translation”. You could definitely see these minor issues cropping up in The Wild Thornberrys at times, particularly in the first season, where colours would sometimes switch back and forth between frames. By shifting this layout work to the home studio for the film, the directors were able to maintain tighter control over the timing, with co-director Jeff McGrath adding, “Plus, in features you really do have the opportunity to change stuff more and to get it the way you envisioned it in the first place”.

For the final animation, though, the team did rely on outside help, turning to Sunwoo Entertainment in South Korea – that studio was responsible for turning several animated shows into films around that time, and for this one they handled the animation, paint and compositing, led by supervising director J.C. Park and additional directors Dong-yuel Baek, Kyung Yeon Kim and Kyu Dae Yeon.

ComVee chases chopperElephants pull down the chopper

While it may not be quite on the same level as a typical Disney production, the animation on offer in the film is a definite step up from the sometimes rather ropey work in the show. It must have been difficult to translate Klasky Csupo’s exaggerated character designs into a suitable form for the big screen, but they managed it nicely and nobody, not even Nigel, looks out of place. The film does also incorporate a little CGI, wisely saving most of it for vehicles and other rigid objects; it blends with the hand-drawn work better in some scenes than others, but the hard-edged ComVee sticks out more than the smoother vehicles of the poachers.

 

Plot

When it came to writing the story for the film, the team knew they would have to dramatically increase the scope from the type of stories they told in the show. Given Eliza’s love of the natural world, it made perfect sense to take it down an conservational route, but the roles of Eliza and her family were also crucial factors to consider, as the family dynamic had always been a big part of what made the show so appealing.

Co-producer Sean Lurie said, “We wanted to produce a movie about destiny and that we all have a role to play on this planet. The main story is Eliza understanding that she has a destiny.” Writer Kate Boutilier added, “It’s a natural for a movie because you can deal with something really big in the animal world and in a kid’s world. I was the one who first brought up the elephants because they’re such family animals”.

Elephants entering Tempo Valley

Once they’d chosen a suitably sympathetic animal to focus on, they then had to decide on the source of conflict – and sadly, there were all too many potential threats to choose from in the real world. Boutilier said, “There are so many villains in the animal world that you don’t have to make up people wanting to take over the world because what they’re doing is already pretty strong”.

It’s awful how true that still is even now, almost two decades after this film came out. Despite aiming their film at family audiences, Klasky Csupo knew from the beginning that they were not going to “pull many punches” in their depiction of poaching, with Boutilier saying, “{The people at} Nickelodeon gave their blessing to push the scale of the movie – the scariness, the realness – to suggest that the danger is very real”. However, they did have their limits, as Lurie pointed out that “everyone cites the Bambi movie as their one childhood trauma… We wanted to avoid that. We didn’t want a Bambi moment”.

I think it’s admirable that they wanted to use this film to try and make a difference – to try and encourage the next generation to fight against such cruelty and, hopefully, help to stop it. Aware, perhaps, of the potential restrictions of being a film based on a kid’s cartoon, the writers took the material seriously and strove to keep the action as realistic as they were able. Boutilier explained, “At the screenings I’ve attended, the parents have always reported that they were just as engaged with the story. We laid in a few things that younger kids might not be aware of. The legend is a very poetic kind of thing that I think {adults} will find appealing. We let the older sister, Debbie, have full-on teen angst that parents will relate to. We keep it accessible to all ages”. (Admittedly, Debbie’s “teen angst” may have been a tad overdone).

Nigel's medal for bravery

Overall, I think the story is skilfully handled; the use of foreshadowing to set up plot points before they occur was a nice touch, with elements such as Eliza’s knowledge of elephants and Sloan’s villainy hinted at long before they actually come into play. Watching the film back for this review, I was also struck by the recurrence of the locket/medal motif as a symbol of fatherly bonding which had previously been used in The Rugrats Movie, but it feels more meaningful here as Eliza is old enough to understand what Nigel is saying when he gives it to her.

Eliza's passport photo

My only real story criticism is the same as one I made of the show; they do make it seem absurdly easy to get from London to the Congo. This is likely down to the Law of Conservation of Detail, so I’m only nit-picking, and the story is presumably set in a pre-9/11 world besides. Still, it does make you chuckle as you get older – most modern airlines would probably not let a pair of 12-year-old girls travel unsupervised, especially when one looks nothing like her passport photo. Then you’ve got all the visas and other red tape of international travel that a kid’s film doesn’t need to be bothered with, followed by the remarkably quick jaunt from Nairobi to the Congo. In reality, there are no direct train links between these two places; indeed, the shortest route would take you right around the northern edge of Lake Victoria and across the entire country of Uganda. Perhaps Eliza and Darwin were just on the train for a really long time.

 

Cinematography

In keeping with the general push for realism, The Wild Thornberrys Movie took more inspiration from live-action classics like Out of Africa (1985) than its animated brethren like The Lion King (1994). Gábor Csupó explained, “We wanted to be very authentic to the location”. Just like they did for the show, the team researched the correct flora and fauna for the areas they were depicting, and Csupó further noted that portraying the people accurately was of paramount importance. “We did a great deal of research for the language, the way they dress, even the artwork they would carve into a piece of wood or instrument,” he said. “We didn’t want to paint a fake picture of a made-up ethnic group, so we really did our homework”. Excellent – this is the next best thing to having minority groups tell their own stories, so it’s good to hear that Nickelodeon were doing this as far back as 2002; it took Disney until the 2010s to start consulting people from other cultures before depicting them.

Baka villagers start their day

Dima Malanitchev served as the production designer for the film, and one of the most freeing aspects of the job for him was the use of a widescreen aspect ratio, 2:3:5. With so much more space to work with than the more cramped TV episodes, the African landscape was able to sprawl out and become “a major player in the story”, in the words of Animation Magazine. Director Malkasian explained that, “You get to use more of the edges of the frame. You’re not stuck with two characters in a very claustrophobic two-shot like you would be in TV. It frees the characters up physically. They have more room to move”.

Malanitchev worked with a team of background painters using a combination of traditional and Mac-based techniques to create the look of the film, with backgrounds being laid out first with paper and pencil and then cleaned up with a fine ink pen. They were then scanned into Photoshop and composited with USAnimation software, which saved time, according to Malanitchev. “It allows you to use less background painters,” he explained. “It also gives you huge possibility for using the entire background from one scene to another or using some tiny parts of it, mixing and matching it. Plus, it gives you much more of a consistent look”.

Of course, while beefing up the scenery to suit the cinema screen, Malanitchev had to be careful not to stray too far from the established style of the show. “Even though we had strong temptation to go for quite realistic skies and landscapes, we tried to keep it as close as possible to the original style of the show,” he said. “Graphic style usually favours smaller formats like a TV screen or a book illustration. When you move to the larger – much larger – screen space, you definitely want to add some extra shades, tones and gradations. So it was quite challenging to strike the right balance – not to over design and over paint backgrounds because we didn’t want to get that glossy, plasticky look of airbrush all over the place”.

The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #1The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #2The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #3The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #4The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #5The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #6The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #7The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #8The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #9The Wild Thornberrys Movie scenery #10

I think it’s safe to say that this film is much more visually impressive than the rather gloomy Rugrats Movie; Klasky Csupo had already upped their cinematography game in Rugrats in Paris, and they continued to push the bar higher here. Among the highlights for me were the more “cinematic” version of the show’s opening which the film begins with, and several of the well-choreographed action set-pieces. The helicopter sequence where Tally is catnapped is truly heart-pounding, as is the climactic sequence of Eliza fighting to save the elephants with its subdued lighting, but it’s also worth highlighting the more abstract moments, such as Eliza’s trippy dream of Shaman Mnyambo. Personally, I also quite liked the scenes at Lady Beatrice’s, as it was such a change of pace to see Eliza in a more conventional setting, eating at a table and socialising with other girls instead of animals.

 

Soundtrack

Drew Neumann, the show’s main composer, was also assigned to compose the score for the film, assisted by Randy Kerber (Kerber also performed a version of the film’s theme song, Bridge to the Stars, with J. Peter Robinson on the score album). The film’s music is generally at its best in the more action-packed moments, with the helicopter chase and elephant rescue again standing out as highlights, and features some strong vocal support from the likes of the Majuba Choir and solo artists Wes Madiko and Ayub Ogada (the Majuba Choir also performed on the soundtrack of Duma {2005}, which coincidentally was also about cheetahs). Of course, I’m not sure about including Tony Hinnigan being listed as providing “ethnic flutes” when his instruments are Andean, but that’s only a minor thing.

If you haven’t seen The Wild Thornberrys Movie since childhood, you might have forgotten that it has a surprisingly killer soundtrack. It was great fun to revisit some of these tracks for this review, especially as I’ve not heard some of them in full before. For some reason, there was a trend among animated films in the early 2000s to feature aging rock stars as their lead musicians (I don’t mean that in a bad way), and this was no exception: Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon are two of the featured artists, but their presence benefited the soundtrack in other ways besides their own talents.

Gabriel, a lifelong fan of world music, was presumably responsible for involving many of the African artists who are featured here, having previously collaborated with Senegalese Youssou N’Dour and Kenyan Ayub Ogada, while Paul Simon had worked with artists like Hugh Masekela, the “father of South African jazz”, and Paramount themselves invited others like Cameroonian Wes Madiko to join the team. There’s some great material to be found here ranging across a huge variety of styles and genres, with so many songs that it almost feels like a jukebox musical (except nobody sings). The only trouble is that many of the pieces are cut short – it’s worth hearing most of these in full!

Akela watches Eliza race with her cubs

The first number is Iwoya from Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo’s 2002 album Black Ivory Soul, which features vocals from South African Dave Matthews. This is played in the early scene where Eliza plays with Akela’s cubs, although it is muted slightly under the conversations so you only hear snatches. The song’s joyful tone instils a false sense of security in us before being brutally cut short by the arrival of the poachers, so it makes a strong choice from a cinematic standpoint. It’s also a fun, danceable number in its own right with a carefree feel and some funky instrumentation, so it’s worth looking up the full song.

Nigel helping Eliza into planeEliza saying goodbye from plane

Then comes the big one, Father and Daughter by Paul Simon, which was written specially for the film. Played in one of the film’s most moving scenes, where Eliza tearfully says goodbye to her family, Simon created the piece as a ballad of love for his own daughter, Lulu (then aged about seven). Simon’s ten-year-old son, Adrian, can be heard singing harmonies on the choruses; his father invited him to join him on the track after hearing Adrian singing along to it in the car. Aww!

It’s not surprising that this was the song that got all the attention – including an Oscar nomination – as it’s the emotional lynchpin of the whole story. Eliza’s bond with her father was always one of the highlights of the show, and this number captures the universality of that bond so beautifully in its simple, raw emotion. Truly a classic, it has transcended the film to become a staple of father/daughter wedding dances the world over, but I think it’s important to remember where it came from. It may be a wonderful song and I chose it as my sixteenth favourite from the credits of an animated film, but there’s more to The Wild Thornberrys Movie than just Father and Daughter.

Sarah gagged with an apple during food fight

Next up is Reel Big Fish’s cover of the 1969 Toots and the Maytals song, Monkey Man, which I’m sure many of you will remember from the big food fight scene at Lady Beatrice’s. The full song is just as fun and silly as you’d expect, and for many of my generation, this was our first exposure to it. The cover has a very nostalgic, early-2000s energy to it and they actually play most of it in the scene, so you can enjoy it pretty much in its entirety right here in the film.

Eliza and Darwin get out of London

Shortly afterwards, we then get a cover of the 1983 Intaferon song Get Out of London by The Pretenders, which plays as Eliza and Darwin… well… er, get out of London. How appropriate! As a kid, I remember loving this short scene because I’ve been visiting London all my life and recognised the sights, such as the London buses and turnstiles on the underground. Strangely, I can’t find any uploads of the full Pretenders’ version of the song, but the original Intaferon version is still just as enjoyable, very hectic and eighties.

Animal Nation train approaches the camera

After this comes one of the film’s other big rock numbers, Peter Gabriel’s Animal Nation, which covers Eliza and Darwin’s travel montage from the flight out of London to the cross-country train. It’s another banger, as the kids say, with a great guitar hook and a kind of mechanical sound to its instrumentation, as though to suggest that we’re too wrapped up in society to pay attention to nature. The sound mixing is particularly good with the way this one was incorporated into the film, with the train’s horn being blended into the rising chorus for added effect and then fading away with it into the night as the train draws away. Gabriel included this on his compilation album Flotsam and Jetsam last year, so it’s obviously still a piece he’s proud of.

Zebu talks to Eliza

Now, most of these next few songs are featured only in brief snippets, so I’ll cover them in a bit of a speed round. Shaking the Tree was an original number from Peter Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour, but for they remastered it (along with many of Gabriel’s other songs) in a new version for the film called the ’02 remix, with rapper Shaggy providing extra vocals. It plays as Eliza and Darwin hitch a lift on Zebu’s cart into the Congo, but you don’t get much, which is a pity.

Eliza and Darwin walk along train tracks

Similarly truncated is Don’t Walk Away, by N’Dour and this time featuring Sting, another eco-friendly rock star. Originally a single released in 2000, N’Dour recorded this updated version with Sting specially for the film, but it’s one of those unlucky numbers that is heard only for a few seconds, fading in after the rhino rescue as Eliza and Darwin are saying goodbye to Sloan and Bree. You can only really hear it as they set off down the train tracks to the refrain of “Don’t walk awaaay…”, but with its thrumming, brooding beat and some smooth harmonies by N’Dour and Sting, this is one you really should hear the rest of.

Debbie looking at baboon's butt

Then we have Accident by the Baha Men, a group Klasky Csupo had already used in Rugrats in Paris, where their (in)famous hit Who Let the Dogs Out quickly drove parents insane. In this film, Accident functions as a kind of theme song for Donnie, playing in the scene where he finds some baboons to dance with after Debbie has been left in charge of him again. Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I never much liked this one; it’s too hyper and annoying, underlining how limited Donnie’s role is in the story. It is a bit more fun when you listen to the full song, admittedly, but I’m still not a huge fan.

Debbie jumps the ravine

Even stranger is the inclusion of End of Forever by Nick Carter, which plays when Debbie “borrows” the Congo-Com to look for Eliza and accidentally does an epic jump across a ravine. It seems to have been chose to emphasise her teenager-y-ness, but it’s a weird choice given Debbie’s usual taste for grunge and rock in the show. A generic pop tune like this doesn’t sound like the kind of thing she’d listen to, but I guess it helped to make the soundtrack more marketable. Never underestimate the power of a Backstreet Boy!

Baka villagers start their dayBoko standing with Baka leader

A little later on, the scenes of Debbie’s stay with the Baka are treated to some of the best numbers on the soundtrack, but again, they are played infuriatingly quietly! Motlalepula (The Rainmaker) by Hugh Masekela was originally released in 1984 on his album Techno-Bush, and it’s used here in the part where Debbie chats to the Baka and shows them her watch and soda after they bring back her bike. It’s a whole lot of fun with a lively jazz beat that’s easy to dance to, but you can barely hear it in the scene.

The same goes for Africa (Llá Ré Waiscó) by Equatoguinean duo Las Hijas del Sol (Wikipedia drops the Las from their name), which plays immediately after Motlalepula as Debbie is trying to make a dignified departure. The Baka watch in concern as Debbie hurtles around in a circle and crashes the bike, all while this amazing song plays in the background. This honestly might be my favourite piece, featuring a fabulous carnival-style beat that you just cannot hear without moving to the rhythm – if you only look up one song from the film on YouTube, make it this one!

Akela reunited with her cubs

Much later, we then have Awa Awa by Wes, which originally came out around 1996/7 and plays for a few seconds as Eliza watches Akela settle down with her cubs near the end, reunited at last. It’s a good choice for that moment, as the full song is a peaceful, melodious tune that puts you in mind of a lazy summer afternoon, perfect for a contented happy ending on the savannah.

Thornberrys dance with baboons

To end on a more energetic note, the film closes with Dance with Us, a slick R&B-influenced pop number by Brandy and P. Diddy featuring Bow Wow. Hearing this as a kid in theatres was the coolest thing ever, and these dance party endings were very common at the time thanks to the likes of DreamWorks using them in many of their films. (There’s also something hilariously funny about seeing the likes of posh toffs Radcliffe and Cordelia boogying to Brandy and P. Diddy). Bow Wow, fresh off his work in Like Mike, had only just dropped the “Lil” from his stage name – that’s how old this song is, yet it still holds up and gets you moving to this day. I can’t get enough of Brandy, seriously; why is she not on the radio much these days?

The Wild Thornberrys Movie credits image

Over the end credits, we then get no less than three songs, the first of which is a reprise of Father and Daughter. The second is the film’s theme, Bridge to the Stars, performed by Tracey Amos and Lisa McClowry, which I found really beautiful in a slightly cheesy way, brimming with emotion and instantly sweeping me back to my childhood. I’ve said before that I’m a sap for this kind of song and I know they’re not to everyone’s taste, but I wish I’d included it in my top 50 list!

Finally, we get Happy by Sita, which, like the Nick Carter song, feels a bit out of place. They were clearly following the trend at the time of using radio-friendly pop numbers over the credits of animated films, but for what it is, it’s not bad. There’s a catchy hook that you can imagine blasting in your car with the windows down, and it feels vaguely reminiscent of Alanis Morrissette at times – not particularly relevant to the rest of the soundtrack, perhaps, but pleasant enough.

Darwin don't I look fetching

A few other songs were included in the film that aren’t featured on the soundtrack. The most notable is Tom Jones’ hit 1971 cover of Paul Anka’s She’s a Lady, which is memorably used in the scene where Darwin struts into the dining hall at Lady Beatrice’s wearing Sarah’s uniform. It’s one of the funniest moments in the film and the chimp really works it; I’m glad they chose this over Aerosmith’s Dude Looks Like a Lady. Gabriel and N’Dour also have another song, This Dream, which plays fittingly enough in the scene where Eliza dreams of Shaman Mnyambo, and then there’s a piece by Ayub Ogada with Ishmael Pamphillé called Oombe which I can’t find a full recording of (it plays when Debbie is first found by the Baka people). Ogada was a friend of Gabriel’s and had previously worked on Out of Africa, one of this film’s inspirations, so he was a natural choice for the soundtrack – I’d recommend one of his other songs, Kothbiro, it’s very soothing. The Major-General’s Song from 1879 opera Pirates of Penzance is also listed as being included somewhere, but I could find no trace of it when watching the film back – perhaps it got cut.

Charlie Adler was the director of the voice-acting and it proved to be quite a task, especially as some of the cast members couldn’t be in LA for the recording; to direct Rupert Everett’s part, for example, Adler had to fly out to New York. Malonga Casequelourd and Obba Babatundé, who played the Baka leader and Boko respectively, also served as advisors on the use of African language in the film, to ensure its authenticity.

The TV cast felt the change in scale when it came to recording their parts for the film. Tom Kane, the voice of Darwin, said, “It’s a whole different process when you’re doing voice work for a feature film. First of all, we recorded it at Paramount on the big sound stage, and it’s a different recording process. It feels more important. You get to walk onto a studio backlot, and you’ve got Star Trek being shot there. You’re sitting there looking at a Klingon and there are major celebrities walking around – it’s cool. Voiceover people don’t get to do that very much.”

Meanwhile, Jodi Carlisle, the voice of Marianne, noted the prolonged schedule, saying, “They did a lot of re-writes and a lot of work on the script. So the time that it took to record it was a lot longer than a usual episode.” She also enthused over working with Tim Curry again, explaining, “I just adore him. He is the best. We’ve developed this little Nigel/Marianne thing, and it’s instantaneous when we get into the studio. It’s something that just clicks.”

 

Final Verdict

During its development, The Wild Thornberrys Movie was originally planned to be released in 2003, after the crossover film with the Rugrats cast. However, something must have gone wrong and delayed the latter project (which I can readily believe, guilty pleasure though it is), so the Thornberry clan had their film bumped up the schedule and the release dates of each film were switched.

The shame of it is, like so many films before it, this promising family flick was somewhat hampered at the box office by some tough competition during the 2002 holiday season. It was bad enough that it came out just weeks after the second part of the hugely popular Harry Potter franchise, but it had the further misfortune of being utterly trounced by the second part of the Lord of the Rings franchise – The Two Towers scooped up all the money and attention and decimated everything in its path.

The Thornberrys did, at least, manage to out-perform Disney’s animated offering of that winter, the notorious bomb Treasure Planet (which is actually fantastic, if you haven’t seen it), but in a typically petty move, Disney also re-released their major hit The Lion King (1994) in IMAX theatres that same month, which led to some unfavourable comparisons of the two African-set films. (Can’t have another studio’s film succeeding, can we Eisner?) Aside from this, most critics did seem to like the film, although predictably many of the reviews were rather patronising in their praise, writing about it as something to keep children entertained. (Roger Ebert was one of the kinder ones).

Still, the Thornberrys held their own, and the film remains one of only fourteen (apparently) to be released in over 3,000 theatres and still improve on its box office performance in its second weekend, when its total gross went up 22.5% from $6 million to $7.4 million. (It finished at just over $60 million, making it a modest financial success.) Nick and Klasky Csupo also had the last laugh when The Wild Thornberrys Movie scooped a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Original Song; Father and Daughter may have lost to Eminem’s Lose Yourself from 8 Mile, but it was still more recognition than Treasure Planet got. I bet that wiped the smile off Eisner’s chops.

In the spring of 2003, the film was released to DVD and VHS, but it hasn’t yet had a Blu-ray release or any other re-release on any form of home media. A direct sequel was also supposedly being planned, before being abandoned in favour of focusing on what would become Rugrats Go Wild (2003). That was to be the family’s last big screen outing to date, so we’ll be seeing them again down the line once I reach it.

 

So, there we have it – The Wild Thornberrys Movie is, for me, something of a forgotten gem that kind of got lost in the shuffle during an extremely busy period for animated features. It may only be a spin-off of a TV show, but it manages to rise above its humble origins and stand apart as a good film in its own right, with strong writing and pacing, a diverse and well-acquainted cast and a really killer soundtrack. I’d recommend giving it another watch if you’ve not seen it in a while, because you might be surprised at how well it has stood the test of time.

 

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this one! I know this show and its film aren’t talked about much anymore, but it’s always been a favourite of mine so I couldn’t help but sing its praises. Next time, we’ll finally be reaching our last Disney princess with a review of the tumultuous production of Brave, after which we’ll be covering the first How to Train Your Dragon, Rise of the Guardians and Frozen II. Then, at long last, we’ll be getting on with Your Name! Until next time, take care, keep inside as much as possible and staaay animated!

My Rating – 4/5

 

 

References
Aside from the standard web sources, the only other source I was able to consult was an old article from Animation Magazine that I was able to dig up at my university library – most of my trivia comes from that:
Ryan Ball, “The Wild Thornberrys Swing onto the Big Screen,” Animation Magazine, Issue 119 (2002): 32-37
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23888002 – credit for poster
https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2000-dec-17-ca-982-story.html – a 2000 article about the TV series which mentions the film, then tentatively set for a 2003 release date
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wild_Thornberrys_Movie – Wiki page
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0282120/ – IMDB profile

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2 Replies to “Film Review: The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)”

  1. As I mentioned in my comment on your review of the series, I was lucky enough to see this movie in cinemas around the time of its initial release (a night-time viewing, on one of my days with my father), and it actually made me appreciate the series even more than I did when I first started watching it. Not to mention, for a long while, it dominated my movie fantasies. (The same thing happened after I saw BROTHER BEAR and DINOSAUR in theaters.)

    One thing I’ve noticed when watching the movie is that the animals’ designs actually look closer to the real thing than they do in the show. For example, compare the hyena shown during the “Animal Nation” musical montage, to those in the Season 2 episode, “No Laughing Matter.” (While on the subject of character design, I’m glad, in hindsight, that they changed Shaman Mnyambo’s look, but I remember seeing his “Gift of Gab” incarnation in the various books that tied in with the movie. And, incidentally, I also noticed the change in Marianne’s hair color, although personally, I think that the strawberry blonde look suits her better, somehow.)

    While I don’t wish to sound like a nitpicker, I am obliged to provide one editorial critique: “Baka” is properly the name of a “pygmoid” people living in the Cameroon-Gabon-FFC (former French Congo) triangle, but it is apparently used (erroneously) as an umbrella term for all such peoples. According to the Wikipedia article on the movie, Boko and his community represent the Mbuti people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear you liked it so much!

      Yes, I noticed that too; the re-designs of the animals must have been part of their effort to make the show’s style more “cinematic”. I do love the crazy Picasso-esqe style of the show, but I think the push for more realism worked in the film’s favour. (Haha I suppose it does, perhaps she was dying it blonde in the show?)

      Ah! I noticed the discrepancy with Wikipedia and decided to play it safe, since most other sources used Baka, but I appreciate the explanation. I think for simplicity’s sake I’ll leave Baka in the article, since the term is used in the film itself by Nigel when discussing the legend of Tempo Valley, but thanks for making this point clear for future readers. It sounds similar to the problem of blanketing all Native American groups under that umbrella term, instead of referring to the specific peoples by their correct names.

      Like

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