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.