World-traveling documentary filmmakers Nigel and Marianne Thornberry have come with their family to Africa to record an amazing elephant migration. Legend says that during a solar eclipse, thousands of elephants emerge from the forest to watch in a hidden valley deep inside the Congo. There’s just one problem: Poachers plan to trap and kill the elephants for their valuable ivory tusks.
Eliza, the Thornberrys’ exuberant 12-year-old, first finds out about the poachers after sneaking away from camp at night to play with her cheetah cub friend, Tally. (Eliza was given the ability to talk with animals when she freed a warthog that turned out to be the magical Shaman Mnyambo.) When Tally is taken by poachers in a helicopter, Eliza tries to rescue him and is nearly injured in a high-flying, high-speed chase.
Eliza’s reckless actions cause her visiting grandmother, Cordelia, to convince her parents to send Eliza back with her to a boarding school in England. Eliza reluctantly goes. But shortly after her arrival in England, Shaman Mnyambo visits Eliza in a dream and encourages her to go save Tally. Eliza escapes from boarding school with her monkey friend Darwin, hops a plane, finds her parents in Africa, rescues Tally and generally saves the day.
positive elements: The importance of family is a big theme of the Nickelodeon television series and it translates well on the big screen. Marianne is apprehensive about sending Eliza to boarding school because she didn’t want filmmaking to keep her family from being together. But she agrees to send Eliza away to keep her safe. Radcliff, Nigel’s dad, tells Marianne that her kids will be safe "because they were raised by you." Eliza and Darwin continually look out for each other and protect each other because they’re best friends. Radcliff and Cordelia parachute into Africa to help find Eliza. Debbie, the 16-year-old sister, tells Eliza that she was never "ordinary." Eliza gives up her gift of talking to the animals to save Debbie.
The characters often put themselves at risk to save each other. Shaman Mnyambo tells Eliza, "you saved the elephants without your gift, but with your heart. You have a greater destiny than I had known." The poachers get arrested in the end—proving once again that crime doesn’t pay.
Another positive of The Wild Thornberrys is the fact that children learn about geography, different animals and cultures in a fun format.
spiritual content: Science and nature are held in high regard with no mention of God, and there are numerous subtle pro-evolution hints. Eliza’s monkey friend is named Darwin, hardly an accident. Near the end of the movie, Nigel films his family dancing with baboons and names the hairless, untamed primates Thornberrys. Darwin tells Eliza that she’s silly for quibbling about the 2 percent difference in their DNA.
There’s a big yin-yang symbol in Debbie’s room. And Shaman Mnyambo plays a large role in the movie. First, he’s in Eliza’s dream. Then, when Eliza says she can talk with animals and loses her powers, a huge, eerie storm blows in. At the end of the movie, Shaman Mnyambo saves Eliza’s life and restores her special power.
sexual content: None. Radcliff kisses Marianne’s forehead in a show of love and support.
violent content: Numerous high-action, relatively scary scenes involving Eliza and the poachers. When Tally is taken, Akela (his mom) bites the poacher but is thrown off. The rope ladder that Eliza is hanging onto is cut from the helicopter. Fortunately, she falls onto the Thornberry’s RV. Eliza jumps off a moving train to help a rhino that’s been shot (we don’t see the shooting or any blood). Eliza, Donnie (her 4-year-old adopted brother) and Darwin are captured and tied up by the poachers. One of the poachers grabs Debbie around the neck and threatens to throw her off a cliff unless Eliza tells him where she’s getting her information. He also throws Eliza from the chopper into a fast-moving river, and pulls out his knife in a menacing way, threatening Eliza that she’ll "never see her family again." He asks at one point, "How many volts of electricity would it take to kill a thousand elephants?" The poachers’ helicopter crashes (the impact isn’t shown).
crude or profane language:"Geek," "dorky," "butt" and "creep."
drug and alcohol content: None.
other negative elements: Darwin says that the peas in shepherd’s pie look like bunny poop. Thunder (a horse) passes gas very loudly and then tells Darwin that he’s standing on the bathroom as he sinks into the manure. Debbie watches a baboon dance with its bottom in her face and says, "That’s just not right." Debbie also says she’s not going to slow dance at her prom with "a purple-butt baboon." Cartoon baboon bottoms are again on display at the end of the movie. Donnie puts worms in his grandmother's tea and does what is called a "wedgie dance." He also give others wedgies. There’s a food fight at the boarding school. Donnie shoves dung beetles into his nose, Darwin’s nose and a gorilla’s nose—they don’t look too pleasant coming out. Eliza takes Tally out to play in a spot that’s beyond where his mother allows him to go. Eliza promises not to go out at night to look for Tally, but ends up escaping from boarding school in England, flying to Africa and hunting for him on her own. The girls at boarding school initially tease Eliza, before becoming her friend. Eliza and Darwin see a heavily pierced man on a London subway. Debbie is a stereotypical teenager who constantly speaks in sarcastic tones. She’s bored by being with her parents in remote locations and longs for cool stuff like "CDs, boots and T-shirts." Nigel says that he hopes elephants will one day be able to live "without fear of man’s greed," which has a ring of truth to it but doesn’t give credit to the vast majority of people who believe in protecting God’s creation.
conclusion: The Wild Thornberrys is another in a long line of Nickelodeon television properties that have hit the big screen. Move over Jimmy Neutron, Rugrats and Hey! Arnold, make room for the new guy.
Promotional materials for this movie claim it’s a "true family show, with a character that each age group can relate to." That may be true, but Eliza’s sneaking away without her parents’ knowledge and Debbie’s constant sarcasm are things most parents wouldn’t want their children to emulate. And the New Age spiritualism of Shaman Mnyambo compounded with the pro-evolution sentiments are sure to turn off some families. Additionally, the movie’s soundtrack includes questionable singers P. Diddy, Shaggy, Brandy and Bow Wow.
The Wild Thornberrys certainly get in some sticky situations. But families who want to brave the underbrush and go on a safari with them will find quality things to enjoy as well. Humor and action are interspersed with strong family bonds and moral life lessons. That’s sure to make this 86-minute animated adventure an instant hit with a whole lot of kids and their parents.