Eliza: I know these things, because… I can talk to animals.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
The Wild Thornberry is one of 90s Nickelodeon series that while good, isn’t often held up next to the titans of 90s cartoons. Most people seem to associate it with the same thing: Tim Curry as the father and the famous “Smashing meme.” Like most Nickelodeon cartoons in the 90s it got its own movie. And it truly shows that it is well worth remembering outside of an Internet meme.
The story involves young Eliza Thornberry who has the ability to talk to animals. She witnesses a baby cheetah cub, named Tally, get stolen by a pair of ruthless poachers. However, her grandmother decides that being on the open road with the rest of her family is unsafe and sends her off to boarding school in London. However, the shaman who gave Eliza her powers comes to her in her dreams and he tells her to go back and save Tally. Thus she sets out back to Africa along with her pet chimp Darwin to do so.
While the movie will easily appeal to those who have watched the show it doesn’t manage to reach far outside that audience. Eliza being at the boarding school is a plot thread that drags on a tad longer than it should. The one part that sticks out during this plot thread is the cafeteria food fight scene, which is very goofily animated. However once Eliza returns to Africa the plot develops and unfolds.
Sometimes the writing can get into some lowbrow humor but it’s not the main focus of the movie. When the movie needs to have a deep moment it does take its time to set in. The goodbye between Eliza and her family coupled with the Father and Daughter song by Paul Simon gives a great deal of weight to the moment.
All the voice actors do a great job of making the characters believable and the silent moments heartfelt. Rupert Everett as Sloane was almost unrecognizable and makes the character somewhat intimidating.
Eliza is a very likable character and the interactions between her and her family are genuine. The one that particularly stands out is the one with her older sister. Debbie throughout the show has often been portrayed as the jerkish older sister but you do see in the movie that the two care for each other. The scene where Eliza ultimately feeling defeated, sacrifices her powers to prevent the poachers from killing Debbie is very moving. And Debbie’s realization at all the things that her sister has done in the scenes that follow, give much more meaning to her character. Eliza and her pet chimp Darwin also share a true bond in the show and movie alike. When the last words Eliza says to him before losing his powers are basically shouting at him to shut up it’s devastating but also heartwarming that even after she is unable to speak to him he still continues to look out for her.
The animation is also well done. The creators knew how to make it much more than just an extended episode of the show. All the line work, colors, and the magnitude particularly towards the end at Tempo valley truly show that they went the extra mile in making it suitable for the big screen.
The Wild Thornberry’s movie doesn’t introduce any new characters unlike other Nick movies like say the first two Rugrats movies but it did establish new bonds between the family in addition to reinforcing old ones. Kids can enjoy the colorful animation and the adventure while adults can appreciate the emotion in it all. It’s not the biggest movie Nick ever made but it went well beyond the show’s abilities.