Back to the Outback, 2021.
Directed by Clare Knight & Harry Cripps.
Featuring the voice talents of Isla Fisher, Tim Minchin, Eric Bana, Guy Pearce, Miranda Tapsell, Angus Imrie, Keith Urban, Aislinn Derbez, Diesel La Torraca, Jack Charles, Celeste Barber, Gia Carides, Rachel House, Wayne Knight, Aaron Pedersen, Lachlan Ross Power, Kiara Marr and Jacki Weaver.
Tired of being locked in a reptile house where humans gawk at them like they’re monsters, a ragtag group of Australia’s deadliest creatures plot a daring escape from their zoo to the Outback, a place where they’ll fit in without being judged for their scales and fangs.
We’ve had meteor movies and animated insect adventures released within weeks of eachother, but who’d of thought we’d ever be treated to two CGI family films in which a koala is key to proceedings? We’ll have to wait a few weeks for Matthew McConaughey’s Buster Moon to return in Sing 2, so until then we’ve got this Netflix offering featuring Tim Minchin’s PrettyBoy the Koala, who alongside Isla Fisher’s snake and Guy Pearce’s dancing spider, are on a mission to escape captivity and return to the wild.
Therein lies the problem with this cheery little kids flick, because unless like Frank the spider you’ve spent your life under a rock, that synopsis sounds a tad too similar to DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar trilogy, heck, even PrettyBoy’s preening to the camera, which makes him the star attraction at Sydney Zoo, is a surrogate for Ben Stiller’s Alex the Lion. There’s also Eric Bana doing a voice in an animated movie in which a shark appears who bears a striking resemblance to his Bruce the Great White from Finding Nemo. It’s like seen-it-all-before bingo.
However, once you put aside the lack of originality on display, which won’t even be an issue for the key demographic of ankle biters, who this is surely intended for, there’s a lot to like about this propulsive adventure, not least the voice work.
Some starry names show up to utter the odd line, with Keith Urban’s slobbering singing toad a real comedic highlight, but it’s Isla Fisher and Tim Minchin (who also delivers an end-credit accompanying song, and that’s always worth a listen) who provide the most bite. Fisher in particular imbues Maddie the snake, an animal which, lets be honest, can be hard to love, with a lot of heart, balancing out the more Looney Toon aspects of proceedings and ensuring the film’s familiar ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ message lands with some emotional weight.
The script is also peppered with enough species related gags and poo jokes to keep the chuckles coming; the aforementioned toad is possibly the funniest exhibit, but there’s also a very good “mating season” gag at the expense of Frank the spider, and a group of dung beetles who show up late to almost steal the show during the Mad Max style chase finale.
Directors Knight & Cripps have stated that this is something of a love-letter to Australia, and that’s obvious in a way that really benefits both the message of the film – playing up the stereotype of the scary nature of even the smallest of outback critters – and the way it looks. All too often these days CGI animated flicks can have an identikit look which makes them seem as though they’re rolled off a studio conveyor belt, but for all of the gripes about originality levelled at BTTO, at least it looks different as our group of escapees travel through the beautifully rendered and varied topography of the country.
Back to the Outback is essentially Finding Dory that Time Forgot, a menagerie mash-up of any number of animated animal flicks you’ve had to tolerate or enjoy over the years, but thankfully this B-team Madagascar falls into the latter category on enough occasions to make a trip to the bush worthwhile.
Back to the Outback is in select theaters on December 3rd, 2021, and available to stream on Netflix from December 10th.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter