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'Thornberrys' movie plan: Pretend series never existed

December 16, 2002|Michael Mallory

It's a jungle out there for new family films in this crowded holiday season, which means "The Wild Thornberrys Movie," based on the Klasky Csupo TV series on Nickelodeon, should feel right at home.

Set largely on the Serengeti Plain of Africa, Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' animated adventure centers on 12-year-old Eliza Thornberry, who travels the globe with her naturalist family, and her mission to rescue animals -- with whom she can converse, thanks to a shaman's spell -- from poachers.

Television properties that jump into theaters typically try to grow to movie-size, though if "The Wild Thornberrys Movie" succeeds in feeling like a bona fide theatrical film, it is because the emphasis was less on expansion than starting over fresh (although writer Kate Boutilier and directors Jeff McGrath and Cathy Malkasian are all veterans of the series). "We made the movie as if the TV series never existed," says Nickelodeon president of film and TV entertainment Albie Hecht. "We created an adventure-comedy story that existed for the big screen."

"Big" is the operative word. The lushly painted African vistas are presented in CinemaScope (relatively uncommon for animation), and the voice cast includes Rupert Everett, Lynn Redgrave, Marisa Tomei, Brenda Blethyn and Alfre Woodard, with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel contributing new songs. Experts on African culture were brought in to review the script and translate some of the dialogue into the African Lingala dialect.

Hecht and co-producer Gabor Csupo stress that the PG-rated adventure is targeted to all ages. "The 'Rugrats' movies that we did before were aimed more at younger kids," says Csupo, "but this one I believe is going to cross over to an older audience, especially adults."

The TV show is one parents can enjoy watching with their kids, and if the movie follows that formula, it just might be the kind of counter-spell that "The Wild Thornberrys Movie" needs to break out of the herd.

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