Born to Be Wild: Children Adventure

(Children’s Adventure)

Warner’s family adventure, Born to Be Wild, contains all the requisite charms and values of a feel-good, politically correct child-animal story, this time centering on a mischievous adolescent and his budding concern for Katie, a playful, highly intelligent gorilla.

However, lacking the magic–and authenticity–of Free Willy, that studio’s 1993 sleeper, this amiable picture will achieve only moderate success, with younger, less critical viewers as its most ardent supporters.

Over the last couple of years, Hollywood has made children’s movies about dogs, horses, whales, monkeys. And now comes one about a cute, smart-alleckey gorilla that has been trained to communicate-and emote–through sign language. The new angle in Born to Be Wild, an honorable addition to a vastly growing body of films, is that human beings and animals are more similar in conduct and feeling than commonsense would allow. Other than that, tale follows closely the genre’s conventions, with specific resemblance to Free Willy. Ever since his father walked out on the family, 14-year-old Rick (Wil Horneff) and his mother, Margaret (Helen Shaver), have grown increasingly estranged from each other. A behavioral scientist, mom has immersed herself in her study of communication with gorillas. And rebellious Rick seems to be on the verge of juvenile delinquency.
As the story begins, Rick is released from jail after another tangle with the law, this time for swiping his mom’s van for a high-speed joy ride. As punishment, she assigns him the unpleasant task of cleaning the animal research lab, which he does with resentment, detesting Katie’s smell, hair and practically everything about her.

As expected, gradually the two begin to enjoy their imposed company, even play tricks on each other, with M&M’s, finger paints, body language, etc. But just as they become buddies and learn the value of mutual trust, Katie is reclaimed by Gus Charnley (Peter Boyle), her vicious legal owner who uses her as a caged novelty act. Heartbroken and unable to bear Katie’s humiliation, Rick rescues her, and together they hit the road, embarking on a wild adventure full of comic quandaries.

Catering to children, Born to Be Wild embraces their point of view–and fantasies–completely. The adult world is presented as insensitive and uncaring, one inhabited by rigid parents or bumbling buffoons, particularly two incompetent cops who chase Rick and Katie as they’re heading toward the Canadian border and freedom.

What elevates the adventure above the standard fare is its spin: Because the gorilla can communicate and express feelings, her relationship with Rick is richer and more fully realized. Problem is, the gorilla progressively gets too cute, performing too many tricks; Katie even takes the stand at court. With a running time of 100 minutes, pic sags a bit toward the end. It could benefit from a trimming of 15 minutes without at all compromising its integrity.

Even so, Born to Be Wild features a number of eye-popping set pieces sure to thrill children, like Rick and Katie speeding on the highway to the loud tunes of “Born to be Wild.” Shot in Washington and Hawaii, production values, particularly Morgan’s lensing of the lush Oahu island and Snow’s buoyant music, are excellent, enhancing considerably the enjoyment of the tale.


A Warner Bros. release in association with Fuji Entertainment of an Outlaw production.
Produced by Robert Newmyer and Jeffrey Silver.
Executive producer, Brian Reilly.
Directed by John Gray.
Screenplay, John Bunzel and Paul Young, based on Young’s story. Camera, Donald M. Morgan.
Editor, Maryann Brandon.
Music, Mark Snow.
Production design, Roy Forge Smith.
Art direction, Gilbert Wong.
Set decoration, Jan Pascale
Costume design, Ingrid Ferrin.
Sound (Dolby), John Patrick Pritchett
Sound design, Leslie Shatz
Make-up, Katharina Hirsch-Smith
Associate producer, Tony Gardner, Jennifer Graham Billings, Susan E. Novick.
Assistant director, Richard Feury.
Casting, Debi Manwiller.

MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 100 minutes


Rick Heller……..Will Horneff
Margaret Heller….Helen Shaver
Gus Charnley……..Peter Boyle
Lacey Carr..Jean Marie Barnwell
Max Carr……….John McGinley
Bob……….Marvin J. McIntyre