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'The Wild Thornberrys Movie'

A fun family romp on the Serengeti

Friday, December 20, 2002

By Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Weekend Editor

It may not be the best, funniest or most popular of the Nickelodeon franchises, but "The Wild Thornberrys" is a perfect fit for the big screen.

Eliza, the 12-year-old heroine, with her parents, the documentary filmmakers Nigel and Marianne Thornberry, in 'The Wild Thornberrys Movie."

How -- with the possible exception of the bottom of the ocean with "SpongeBob Squarepants" (coming soon, no doubt) -- can you beat an action adventure set on the Serengeti?

For the uninitiated, "The Wild Thornberrys" concerns the clan of Nigel and Marianne Thornberry, British documentary filmmakers working out of an RV on the African plain. Although mom and dad are single-mindedly devoted, the kids aren't all on the same page. Teen daughter Debbie belongs back in society where she can have full access to malls, hair dryers, Avril Lavigne and potential prom dates.

Debbie would love a sister "who just played with dolls." Instead she gets one who talks to animals.

Eliza, our 12-year-old heroine, has been granted this secret power by the ghost of an African shaman and wouldn't give it up for anything (that will become a dilemma). On the bottom rung is Donnie (voice of Flea!), the typical gonzo 2-year-old boy, only a lot more so.

'The Wild Thornberrys'

RATING: PG for adventure peril

DIRECTORS: Jeff McGrath and Cathy Malkasian

WEB SITE: www.nick.com/all_nick/


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The Thornberry mission in their motion picture debut is to document a rare elephant migration on the occasion of a solar eclipse. It's complicated by a band of poachers who not only snatch a cheetah cub but also hatch a diabolical plot to ensnare the elephants.

Eliza -- all pigtails, freckles and braces -- wants to save the animals, not to be a hero, but out of instinct. Unfortunately, her meddling grandmumsy has convinced her daft father to dispatch her back to England to attend a boarding school for girls. She shows up with a simian stowaway as fussy as Nathan Lane ("Are you still quibbling about that 2 percent difference in our DNA?" he asks her.) Their appearance at the Lady Beatrice School will wreak havoc on the institution and, better yet, her snotty roommate.

The uptight school and the wild plain are a nice mix in "The Wild Thornberrys." Better yet is that the snappy screenplay was actually written by one person, Kate Boutilier, as opposed to one of those group efforts, and it shows in the care she brings to the story and characters. The animation is nothing spectacular; just the typical Nick style of bold colors, long necks and big heads.

What would a trip to the Serengeti be without a meddling grandmumsy?

If all else fails (which it shouldn't), the soundtrack will keep you awake, because it's a great one. The showcase tune, Paul Simon's "Father and Daughter," is the best pop song he's written in years. Along for the ride are the world beat regulars and a few surprises: Peter Gabriel, Sting, Reel Big Fish, the Baha Men (not "Who Let the Dogs Out"!), Hugh Masekela, Angelique Kidjo with Dave Matthews and P. Diddy & Brandy with Bow Wow.

Producers Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo (of "Rugrats" fame) also brought in some heavy-duty talent to round out the show's voiceover cast with the likes of Brenda Blethyn, Rupert Everett, Lynn Redgrave, Marisa Tomei, Alfre Woodard and Tim Curry.

Clearly, unlike the last Nick venture -- the disastrous "Hey Arnold" -- this one wasn't just thrown up on the screen to cash in on the name. From the voices to the soundtrack, "The Wild Thornberrys" got the star treatment and it's likely to be a crowd-pleaser.

Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

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