Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe used to be standard reading material in schools, so for a lot of kids at least from the 90’s the story remains pretty close to their hearts, even being a big source of inspiration. So it’s disappointing that a modern animated feature adaptation of the material turns out to be so uninspiring.
Directed by Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stasses, Robinson Crusoe (or The Wild Life as it is called overseas) isn’t really from the point of view of a shipwrecked man discovering an island and finding himself in a crazy adventure.
Instead it shifts the focus from its titular character to the animals on the island he arrives at and how they would react to such a scenario. It’s a nice little subversion for sure and talking animals means more fodder for the younger audience members.
The problem is once it is established that this is from the animals’ point of view, the film simply becomes a tame cousin of the Madagascar films. A similar style of slapstick comedy, and energetic action like sequences are utilized to cater to the youngest kids whose attention needs to be drawn consistently.
There are a couple of laughs for sure but they seem forced and most of the attempts at humor try too hard to get some emotional reaction out of you.
The other issue is that the story is narrated from a macaw named Mak, the ‘central’ animal in the film who doubles as the story spoon feeder to the audiences. It serves as a distracting and often uninteresting plot device as the sense of adventure and discovery dissipates into something of a commercial juggernaut that the film unfortunately tries to be.
Moreover, the ‘villain’ angle is dissolved into two mangy cats who try to pull a pig attack over the Angry Birds island. Moreover, probably due to budget reasons, we only see one animal of every species on the island so it becomes a little difficult to suspend your disbelief completely and accept this island as land inhabited by scores of exotic creatures.
Robinson Crusoe feels like a theme park ride rather than a movie, and considering co director Stassen used to work as a designer for theme parks it isn’t very surprising.
There’s a finale involving pirates and a swashbuckling fight to thwart their advances but it just doesn’t feel as interesting as the original story. In Defoe’s book there’s a really scary moment when Crusoe finds footprints on the island which is supposed to be deserted and fends off scores of cannibals – nothing in this movie comes even close to the feeling of mystery or surprise captured in the original book.
The animation is pretty good, and it’s doubly disappointing that the story isn’t strong enough to back up the visual artists’ work. It’s probably a better investment to pop in the DVD of this film to keep very young kids at home entertained than to head to a theater.