The Wild

Directed By Steve “Spaz” Williams

Walt Disney Pictures

3 stars

It could be said that Kiefer Sutherland is the next Sean Connery, albeit of a lesser talent than the legendary Scot. Just as Connery has barely ever modulated his voice in his film career (not even when playing a Russian in “Hunt for the Red October”), Sutherland has definitively proved in “The Wild” that his sandpapery baritone is appropriate to any role he might undertake. The power of “Jack Bauer’s” performance saves this fun but otherwise trivial computer-animated Disney flick.

Starring as Sampson the lion – the unimaginatively-named leader of a band of quirky New York City Zoo animals who try to rescue Sampson’s runaway son (Greg Cipes)—Sutherland brings a level of realism to the beast he portrays that no other actor in the film can attain. This is largely because the timbre of his voice enlivens his feline alter-ego, while most everyone else manipulates his/her accent to the point of incomprehensibility.

Better known for his TV series “24,” Sutherland should seriously consider a voice-acting career. Not that he isn’t terrific in “24,” it’s just that there’s dearth of talented actors who know how to jazz up an animated character.

Nevertheless, it’s quite surprising that the rest of the characters come off so flaccidly, considering the many stars who turned out for “The Wild.” Benny the squirrel (Jim Belushi) barely left a dent in my memory, which really surprises me considering his genius turn as Simon the Monster Hunter in the Nickelodeon series “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.”

Janeane Garofalo fails to transcend her real-life stature as the towering giraffe Bridget—Benny’s love interest. Most unfortunately, the omni-talented pansexual Eddie Izzard is barely intelligible as Nigel the blathering British koala. I suppose the second-rate direction by first-timer Steve “Spaz” Williams is to blame.

Thank God the real talents of this film, like Sutherland, more-or-less direct themselves, otherwise “The Wild” would be too trivial to recommend (despite the terrific animation). William Shatner, taking a break from his deservedly thankless stint on “Boston Legal,” hilariously empowers Kazar, a diabolical carnivorous wildebeest-choreographer, in a nearly show-stopping display of dramatic versatility. But the show remains Sutherland’s in the end, as Kazar appears too infrequently to co-opt the film.

Disney’s latest anthropomorphic offering, once again, proves the remarkable power of the lead actor. Tim Allen single-handedly destroyed “The Shaggy Dog,” dragging down the excellent performances of his supporting cast. In “The Wild,” Sutherland overcomes the mediocrity of his fellow actors—one fearsome roar amidst a din of discordant drivel.

BOTTOM LINE: While it pales in comparison to “Finding Nemo” and “Toy Story,” Kiefer Sutherland makes “The Wild” worthwhile.