While evidence does suggest that Disney's CGI kids' movie The Wild hit the planning stage before Dreamworks' CGI kids' movie Madagascar, the films' respective origins don't matter nearly so much as the fact that Madagascar hit screens a year ago, and The Wild is only dragging into theaters now. Even acknowledging that children aren't the pickiest viewers, how many animated films about a band of sheltered, fractious New York zoo animals semi-accidentally escaping into the jungle does any viewer need over the course of a year?
Answer: maybe still more than one, if both are done cleverly and creatively. But The Wild's dirty secret is that it doesn't just feel redundant with Madagascar; it also has so much in common with Disney's The Lion King, its recent Chicken Little, and Fox's still-in-theaters Ice Age: The Meltdown that it sometimes seems more like a clip show than a movie in its own right. Kiefer Sutherland stars as the voice of Samson, a New York Zoo lion famed for his roar. Samson's squeaky son (Greg Cipes) wants to live up to his father, but lacks the voice; after a great deal of angst and slapstick, his feelings of inadequacy get him stuck on a transport ship to Africa. A panicked Samson follows, trailing a horde of otherwise generally useless comic-relief characters voiced by James Belushi, Janeane Garofalo, Eddie Izzard, and Richard Kind. Eventually, à la The Meltdown, one of these characters is mistakenly hailed as a god-figure by a volcano-dwelling, obsessively imitative cult of animals; their leader (William Shatner) wants the rest of the cast in hand because he's developed a cunning plot, which is more than can be said for the film.
For a while, it's interesting to watch The Wild just for its animation, which is balanced somewhere between cartoony stylization and the ultra-realism of the CGI creatures in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. The characters tend to look more like cleverly stop-motion-animated Lion King dolls than anything else. But that novelty wears off quickly, and The Wild doesn't have any others to offer. There may be nothing new under the sun, but there are at least films that dress up old tropes in new ways. This isn't one of them.