CONTINUING our insensible foray into the dregs of animated horror, Film Torments examines the awful, awful, awful drek that festers in the bowels of Life’s a Jungle: Africa’s Most Wanted.
Much like live-action film studio The Asylum, committed to offering no-budget mockbuster alternatives to the likes of Transformers (or Transmorphers), the animated field is no stranger to piggybacking off the ideas and success of Hollywood. Whether it’s Chop Kick Panda or Little Panda Fighter, Ratatoing or Little Cars, the air of creative bankruptcy remains just as pungent and rancid. It’s gross capitalisation in the crassest sense of the word, and that’s saying something.
This brings us to Life’s a Jungle: Africa’s Most Wanted, a putrefying husk of an animated film with the soul of a dying bean counter. The chances are you haven’t heard of this one, for a good reason: The most loathsome of straight-to-DVD Disney sequels can’t even come close to Robert D. Hanna’s disgusting little cesspool, cobbled together from a legion of stock sound effects, discarded animating tools and fetid reams of toilet humour. For a man whose credited work includes Shrek, Shrek 2 and Madagascar, Hanna’s previous contributions apparently preclude his talent.
He lends his voice to main character Pip, a snobbish pedigree cad living a pampered lifestyle in an upper-crust American mansion. When Pip and his owners embark on a safari trip to central Africa, Pip is separated from his family by an aggressive, bipedal rhinoceros, and Pip must find his way back while dealing with stoner aardvarks, ninja sloths and humanoid hyenas. It is just as insufferable as it sounds.
Life’s a Jungle takes most (if not all) its narrative cues from Madagascar; its 2012 summer release (straight to DVD) coincided with the third instalment in DreamWorks’ series, blatantly cashing in on gullible parents buying knock-off distractions for their children. It’s a business practice The Asylum has practically patented at this point, but Prevalent Entertainment and Phase 4 Films appropriate it just as clumsily. Hanna’s own experience with the original Madagascar no doubt heavily informed his own take on domesticated animals struggling to adapt to life in the wild.
The end result, obviously, is devoid of stars like Ben Stiller and Chris Rock. Instead, we have a cabal of voice actors who sound like they’re recording their lines through facefuls of treacle, suffering from an extensive hangover and suspended upside down from the studio ceiling. Voice acting of this astonishing calibre, I thought, was reserved only for the likes of early Resident Evil games, but none of the actors can provide a solitary second of believable, emotional investment.
They knew better than anyone else that the excruciating script was nigh unreadable. It’s a credit to them that they managed, because these lines are bog-standard and often closely affiliated to cloacal concerns. The trailer prominently features the scene where Pip is straddling a toilet in his palatial estate, but the film also takes great pleasure in establishing just how fucking hilarious poop is. As Pip sleeps, his new hyena chums pick up a lump of shite and plonk it on Pip’s hand. They then scratch his nose, causing Pip to smear said shit all over his nose as he goes to scratch it.
This is the kind of intellectual plateau Life’s a Jungle expects its viewers to inhabit. The quality – or lack thereof – in its actual animation is similarly botched, with character models looking like they were ripped right out of an early 3D videogame FMV. Pip, with his Argyll sweater, flesh-toned arms and rigid, outsized skull is a surreal nightmare; the bipedal rhinos even moreso, human torsos stapled on to hideous grey bodies.
The animation is unbearably sluggish, often taking whole minutes for a character to move from one side of the scene to the other, with a crippled soundtrack underscoring their passive indifference. The sloth, intentionally slow, actually moves at around the same speed as every other character, presumably because Hanna and his team had plenty more coffee breaks than union regulations dictated (but we’re just theorising). The other characters move and talk like aliens, stripped free from the petty bounds of mortal physics. Even by animated standards of reality, characters’ movements are ungrounded, neither matching their real-life animal counterparts nor emulating human interaction. Anthropomorphisation only makes these things creepier.
But this is all to be expected. What else would a sensible adult expect when faced with the very poster? Just look at the thing – even for a parent looking for something to distract their four year-old, it’s impossible to justify buying this garbage instead of, say, Song of the Sea or a Ghibli film. It, like the rest of its shameful ilk, is an affront to one of the finest outlets for creative expression within the current film industry. I hate it. Utterly.