Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in 1995, it was Wild

I know that because while I was only four, epic features that I'd fondly remember from my childhood came out that year, including Ace Ventura: Nature Calls and Born to be Wild.

Also, the music video for the song Seal did for the Batman movie that came out that year would end recorded on one of my mother's old music video tapes, and I'd remember the blue lights and the "did you know that when it snows my eyes become large and..." with fond visual memory and synesthesia.

I'll be finally talking about the latter mentioned movie here.

Born to be Wild follows a young teenager and an ape, and it's one of those very predictable storylines where the kid breaks the gorilla out of his main attraction cage at a flea market and escapes with it, making their way out of the country. You know, one of those stories where there's sympathy for the animal that's put on as a sort of crazy attraction or 'freak show' so the protagonist takes it upon themselves to save it.

The main character, Rick, is a sort of juvenile delinquent who appears to like taking joy rides (as seen at the beginning of the movie) even though he's only fourteen. He skips school (which is notably filled with reckless students) and just does his own thing. His father left the family at an earlier point prior to the beginning of the movie.
His mother works with animals and leases the young gorilla, named Katie, recently captured from Africa by a team led by Gus Charnley, the owner of the flea market. After being caught again by the police, his mother puts him to work cleaning the gorilla cage.
After awhile Rick forms a bond with the gorilla (who by the time Rick begins cleaning the cage has grown and knows a considerable amount of sign language taught by the mother) and he becomes proficient in sign language himself (having known some of it from his childhood due to a deaf grandmother). Unfortunately, the gorilla Gus uses at his flea market dies (due to obvious stress from the screaming crowds always gathered around the cage and lack of proper care) and he comes back for Katie, nullifying the lease and the option to buy the gorilla out.

Meanwhile, Rick returns to school in time to upset a high-achieving girl named Lacey who is running for the school election to become president (he throws a pop can in the garbage). When he finds out the gorilla has been sent to the flea market, he goes there himself to see the loud crowds upsetting the gorilla.

Thereafter he kidnaps Katie out of the cage that night, puts her in his mother's work van, obtains a map and directions from the aforementioned Lacey (who sympathizes with him and the gorilla, approves of their escape, and directs them to her uncle's house) and hits the road.
Most of the movie follows Rick and the gorilla's adventure northbound with Lacey's uncle's as the destination. They stop at a store with Rick leaving Katie in the van, and while he's in the store Katie unwittingly releases the brakes. They try to go through a drive-thru at a fast food restaurant and Katie swipes the order out of the ordering window, frightening the clerk and causing them to drive off.
"I just took an order from a gorilla!"
"Did the gorilla pay for it?"
"Good, now get back to work!"
Eventually a farmer with a shotgun catches them picking his apples (as they seemingly now have to avoid stores and fast food outlets) and they run for it, escaping into a river on a boat though leaving the van behind. Ultimately they hitchhike to the uncle's house (an eccentric guy who makes statues and has his niece's sense of freedom) where Katie has by this point fallen slightly ill. They leave early next morning as the police start to catch up to them, and it culminates in a big pursuit that ends in Rick being caught as Lacey (who'd made her way to her uncle's) and the uncle making their getaway to Canada.
In the end in a courtroom hearing, the judge decides that Rick should be Katie's guardian after a display of her intelligence and knowledge of right from wrong. The judge also rules that Gus is not a proper caregiver and that Rick won't be able to drive until the age of 21.
The ultimate ending has Rick sadly leaving Katie to live in Hawaii where she has a natural habitat, as in his words, she "has to go be a gorilla" while he "has to go be a kid." It's a very heartfelt ending, at least for the Rick character; I am not comfortable watching people cry.

Once again, I felt a lot of nostalgia coming out of the film. There were many scenes that would play out and I'd shout "I remember that!" There was a particular scene in which Katie takes a soda but shakes it up first. What I remembered was the whole thing exploding in Rick's face.
Instead Rick notes this, advises her to wait awhile before drinking, and after a moment she opens the can while pointing it at him.
"That wasn't long enough."

Originally I thought Rick never knew she shook it up and he'd selected the bursting can out of bad luck. But anyway, things like that which had originally had me laughing as a kid had me laughing all over again.

Another big point here is the different perspectives: As a kid I'd seen the Rick character as a big, rough, almost scary-like teenager, probably about sixteen or seventeen. Big and outward and loud.
As a young adult, I saw a kid only six years older than me (when I was a kid) or so. Smooth-skinned, young, only fourteen. I was actually shocked at how well and often he drove in the movie. He would have only been in grade nine or something. Sometimes I thought the movie was a little too jumpy or sentimental; there's a scene in which Rick first sees Katie in the cage at the flea market, and Lacey sympathizes with him. Five seconds later it's nighttime and Rick's in a bathroom stall, getting dressed in black and ready to infiltrate the place to retrieve her.

I admit I was puzzled, as a kid, when I saw what seemed to be a scene of Rick using the bathroom, then taking the gorilla. Why show him using the bathroom? Obviously I know now it was meant as a transition of him using the bathroom to get ready to sneak in to the flea market, and not as a random scene of his feet on the ground in a stall, using the toilet. It's funny how we see certain things as a kid with our lack of general knowledge and wisdom.

I'm also kind of surprised at how they stop at these places like fast food outlets and things and no one realizes who they are (Gus Charnley has detectives in search for them and police and the media everywhere are going crazy about it). They stop and spend an entire afternoon at the beach not far from the fast food disaster. Someone could track them there easily if they spent the rest of the afternoon there and night.
The only person who notices them at all is the man they hitchhike with, when he sneakily reveals he knew all along who Rick was and the fact that there's a gorilla hiding in the back of his truck.

On the last thing that I didn't find too attractive was some of the overly-sentimental scenes. I mean, come on. The gorilla is in a bathtub filled with bubbles at the uncle's house, there's candles and Rick is leaning on the edge, tearfully telling Katie that he wants her to get better (she has mildly gotten sick by this point) and he's worried about her dying. The way the scene plays out and how the camera slowly rotates around them, how emotional Rick as and how romantic and sad it tries to evoke, it's just too much. By the next scene Katie is fine; she's raiding a fridge in the middle of the night.
On the back cover of the VHS I have, Katie is hugging Rick, whose face is scrunched up in tears. Jeez.

The ending is much the same way. Rick lets her go, then as he's riding in the truck with his mother down a dirt road, Katie runs alongside them at the top of a hill. They stop the truck and Rick bursts up the hill to hug her one last time, crying and telling her he'll come back.

Katie might as well be Rick's soulmate in that scene. Except she's a gorilla. Parting is really "such sweet sorrow" for them, especially the teenage human.

Maybe I'm being a tad bit rigid, cold or insensitive, but really, some of that stuff is just overkill. Rick and Katie bonded over one night of finger painting in the beginning, then they have a lot of fun escaping together, but his passion for her just gets a bit too weepy. To be fair, I'll justify the emotional parting scene, because while it is a bit overly melodramatic, it is in essence sweet. But Rick coming on the verge of tears talking about his departing father during their night on the beach, it just shows how well that actor can turn on the tears.

There's one more thing I want to point out with this movie: The actors. You just won't believe how many times you'll have seen a particular actor before you realize you saw them. If you watched Lost, do you remember who played the original Man in Black? That Titus Welliver guy? I thought that Lost was the first place I saw him. No, I saw him as one of the detectives in Born to be Wild first, as a child. His partner in the movie, another detective, is played by Thomas F. Wilson. But I thought I only saw him for the first time when I watched Back to the Future and he played the bully Biff Tannen.
It's the same for Alan Ruck, who plays Rick's lawyer. Originally I'd "only" seen him as Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. No, I'd seen him as a middle-aged lawyer in this movie first. Further more, Peter Boyle (of Everybody Loves Raymond) plays the antagonistic Gus Charnley, and John C. McGinley plays the uncle. I'd seen McGinley in Nothing to Loose as a criminal. Never realized there'd been a soft, activist-like side of him in this movie.

So in essence it was like reliving memories from my childhood as well as seeing them from a new perspective and knowledge base, as well as seeing actors, when they were younger and before I'd realize I'd later see them in more prominent roles and properly know them.

It was a good movie. Originally I was afraid when watching it again that I'd see too much crying, something I am completely uncomfortable seeing unless I have something to do with it and therefore can comfort or justify it or do something about it. Those fears weren't realized too much, but it was a little too weepy.

Storyline: B+ (though predictable)
Movie in general: B+

Justin C.

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