leave a comment --Angel Cohn
The globetrotting Thornberry family of Nickelodeon's popular animated series take to the big screen, bearing their trademark message of environmental awareness and concern for animals beneath an appealing layer of family-friendly comedy. The close-knit, oddball Thornberry clan is headed by patriarch Nigel (voice of Tim Curry), a bumbling nature-documentary host, but his cinematographer wife, Marianne (Jodi Carlisle), is the true brains behind the operation. They have two daughters, high-maintenance teenager Debbie (Danielle Harris), who gripes incessantly about being dragged from one exotic locale to another, and Eliza (Lacey Chabert), who acquired the secret ability to speak to animals by rescuing a warthog who turned out to be a shaman in disguise. The extended family group includes adopted bush-child Donnie (Flea), a wild mini-Tarzan famed for his "wedgie dance," and Eliza's loyal friend Darwin (Tom Kane), an educated chimpanzee. The family is roaming the African plains when poachers Sloan and Bree Blackburn (Rupert Everett, Marisa Tomei) abscond with Tally, a cheetah cub Eliza has befriended, and nearly do Eliza in when she tries to stop them. Eliza promises Tally's mother (Alfre Woodard) that she'll get him back, but overbearing grandma Cordelia (Lynn Redgrave) steps in and ships Eliza off to a proper English boarding school, hoping to save her from her own barbaric ways. After the inevitable run-ins with prissy, well-mannered schoolmates and stern headmistress Mrs. Fairgood (Brenda Blethyn), adventuresome Eliza stages a daring escape back to the wild. There she teams up with Darwin to save Tally and an entire herd of elephants from the despicable poachers. The brave, loyal Eliza is an appealing lead character, and the film's strong voice ensemble truly brings the quirky characters to life Debbie's side trip into the deep jungle to track down the fast-moving Donnie is a highlight. Though any animated film set in Africa is bound to be held to the standards of THE LION KING's ground-breaking visuals, the filmmakers wisely resist the temptation to abandon their own distinctive style of animation, complete with oddly proportioned humans and creatures. They also manage to introduce environmental issues without becoming solemn and preachy, like the overly educational FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST. The soundtrack, thick with catchy tunes by artists ranging from P.Diddy to Paul Simon, is a fine counterpoint to the story and visuals.