By Richard Crouse – In Focus
Broad vocabulary, grammar and syntax are the domain of humans, but science tells us millions of species communicate by using body language and intuitive calls. Chimps can be taught to sign simple phrases and elephants have individual sounds to signify danger and emotions, but complex storytelling is left to us humans.
Unless you’re at the movies. This year, theatres have been overrun by hordes of anthropomorphic animals. From Zootopia and Nine Lives to The Secret Lives of Pets and The Jungle Book, animals have been talking up a storm.
This weekend The Wild Life becomes the latest animated film to tell a story from the point of view of wildlife. A riff on Daniel Defoe’s classic tale of survival, Robinson Crusoe, the film’s narrator is a bright red parrot named Mak (David Howard).
In this version, Crusoe crash lands on an island where animals rule and must work with the chatty Mak, a tapir named Rosie and Kiki the kingfisher to save their home from an invasion by some savage felines.
Disney has the grandest tradition of talking animals — Mickey Mouse to The Little Mermaid’s Sebastian the Crab and Jiminy Cricket to name just a few — but they are not the only ones putting words into our pet’s mouths.
Flushed Away comes from Aardman, the animation company behind Wallace and Gromit.
The story of an upper class pet mouse flushed down the loo by a bullying rat features great animation, an all-star British voice cast and something that all kids love — toilet humour. It swirls along at quite a clip, effortlessly mixing literate verbal and visual jokes — we glimpse a cockroach reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis — with potty humour that’ll appeal to the kids.
G-Force’s talking crime fighting guinea pigs come courtesy of über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The voice cast includes not one, but two Oscar winners, which may be an indication that the recession has finally taken root in Hollywood.
When the best gig Penelope Cruz can get involves saying lines like “Oh, I have to save his fur again?” you know times are tight for A-listers.
Pixar’s Ratatouille is an unusual cross between America’s Next Top Chef and Willard. Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is a sophisticated rodent with a highly developed sense of smell and a wicked sense of humour.
While his rat brothers and sisters are happy to simply survive by scavenging through the garbage, Remy aspires to culinary greatness. Ratatouille does something no other film has been able to — not that a lot of have tried — it makes rats cute, lovable even.
On the live action front, Zookeeper, or as any Kevin James movie could be called, “Fat Guy Falling Down… A Lot,” plays like Dr. Doolittle if Dr. Doolittle was a romantic comedy for kids. Luckily the animals come to the rescue. Luckily the monkey from The Hangover 2 has some of the film’s best lines. Adam Sandler provides the monkey voice, but also listen for the beastly vocal work of Cher, Nick Nolte, Don Rickles and Sylvester Stallone.