Plot: What’s it about?
Rick Heller (Will Horneoff) is a young man with a good heart, but he somehow manages to be in trouble all the time. He isn’t a bad kid, he just gets into hijinks and his mother is ready to make sure he straightens up. After all, she knows he has potential, but as long as he keeps up his antics, he won’t fulfill that potential. So his mother Margaret (Helen Shaver) puts him to work and gives him a task that is fun at times, but also demands some responsibility. Rick is supposed to take care of a four year old gorilla named Katie, who was brought to his mother to be taught some special skills, ones that enhance Katie’s interaction skills. The gorilla is being taught how to communicate via sign language, which enables her to increase her ability to interact with humans, which makes her a most unique primate. As time passes, Rick begins to love spending time with Katie, even when he is cleaning her cage or other menial tasks. In fact, what started out as a chore has turned into a genuine friendship. But that friendship is put in danger when Katie’s original owner Gus Charnley (Peter Boyle) returns to collect his gorilla. He plans to use Katie’s newfound skills to draw in audiences, as he displays her as a flea market attraction. Rick has other plans however, so he frees Katie and the two embark on the adventure of a lifetime…
I happen to love movies with primates in central roles, but for every good one, there’s a half a dozen clunkers. In the case of Born to Be Wild, we can add yet another clunker to the pile, as this movie is quite bad. The premise is passable for this kind of movie, but falls into stretches of boredom as the plot unfolds. And with these family films, dull passes can spell disaster, as kids need to be entertained at all times. I do like the gorilla itself, which is a well crafted animatronic creation, one which is a step above the usual such device. As this wasn’t a high profile production, I was surprised to find such a well done special effect, but as the movie itself is a let down, the cool gorilla work is all but wasted here. The cast has some bright spots also, such as Peter Boyle (The Santa Clause, Young Frankenstein) and John C. McGinley (Office Space, The Animal), but most of the performances are mediocre at best. If you’re hard up for family entertainment, I recommend looking elsewhere, as Born to Be Wild simply isn’t a worthwhile picture. Warner has even went the extra mile to keep folks from buying this disc, as they’ve neglected to include a proper widescreen presentation. So even if you’re one of the few people interested in this disc, Warner’s lackluster treatment means you should leave this one on the shelf.
Video: How does it look?
Born to Be Wild is presented in full screen, instead of a proper widescreen presentation. This is sure to mean lost sales, as people want to see these movies as the filmmakers’ intended, not these hacked up versions. If you can overlook the lack of a proper aspect ratio, just for a second or two, this transfer isn’t too bad. The print is in decent condition, colors look solid, and contrast is well balanced. But all that goes to waste, as the compromised visuals simply outweigh any positive elements found in this treatment. One of these days, Warner will learn its lesson and give us proper aspect ratio presentations on all releases, even family ones.
Audio: How does it sound?
As with most comedies, this film’s audio is driven by dialogue and lacks power, but the included 2.0 surround option is more than solid. The music adds to the depth of the mix and sounds good, but aside from that, this is a reserved, dialogue based experience. A few scenes do have some spark, especially once the popcorn starts to churn, but keep your expectations grounded, as this material simply doesn’t need the bells & whistles. The dialogue sounds clean and never hard to understand though, which is all we can ask in this case. This disc also includes a French language option, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The sole supplement here is an audio commentary track, in which director John Gray and screenwriter Paul Young discuss the production. Of course, I am surprised Gray was involved in this release, since his original version has been hacked up, though as we know, some directors don’t care what happens to their pictures.