DIRECTORS: Harry Cripps and Clare Knight

CAST: Isla Fisher, Tim Minchin, Eric Bana, Guy Pearce, Miranda Tapsell, Angus Imrie, Keith Urban, Jacki Weaver, Rachel House, Celeste Barber, Wayne Knight, Aislinn Derbez, Diesel La Torraca, Lachlan Ross Power

RUNNING TIME: 95 mins

CERTIFICATE: U

BASICALLY…: A group of Australia’s deadliest animals break out of the zoo and head back to the wild…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Remember how awesome The Rescuers Down Under was? The vastly underrated Disney ‘toon from the early 90s was a gorgeous and neatly epic journey across the Australian wilderness, with enough stellar animation, fun humour and investing emotion to last in our memories even decades later. The reason I bring it up, though, is because now we have the new Netflix animated film Back to the Outback which also goes on a major trek throughout the titular area of Australia, but fundamentally lacks the emotion, humour, and even the animation of what made a 30-year-old movie substantially more epic.

Granted, this movie is aimed much more towards the 3-8 age group, with the exact kind of cutesiness and basic morals you’d find in your average episode of PAW Patrol, but even still there isn’t much getting around how much more streamlined this movie feels, like a harmless conveyor-belt movie designed as a mere hour-and-a-half distraction for the young’uns, and nothing more.

The movie, as stated earlier, takes place in Australia, and we begin our action at a Sydney zoo which is home to a group of animals that are promoted as some of the deadliest creatures on the planet. Of course, they’re anything but dangerous; in fact, for animals which have the ability to kill or stun anything they sink their fangs into, they’re quite adorable with their big, bulbous eyes and gentle personalities. There’s Maddie (Isla Fisher), a kind-hearted taipan snake, Frank (Guy Pearce) who’s a funnel web spider with a serious desire to find a mate, Zoe (Miranda Tapsell) the sardonic thorny devil, insecure scorpion Nigel (Angus Imrie), and their grandmotherly crocodile friend Jackie (Jacki Weaver). They’re not too pleased about the fact that they’re always treated like monsters, especially by the Steve Irwin-like zookeeper Chaz (Eric Bana), and after a devastating loss they decide to break out and make the journey toward – where else? – the outback, where they can live in peace. Couple of problems, though; one, they’re being endlessly pursued by Chaz and his overeager son Ben (Diesel La Torraca), and two, they’ve accidentally brought along the zoo’s most popular attraction in the form of cuddly koala Pretty Boy (Tim Minchin) who, as it turns out, is kind of an arrogant sod.

Basically, Back to the Outback is everything you might expect out of a modern-day animated film aimed squarely at young children. You have the pretty animation, the cutesy character designs, the hip modern lingo, and random pop songs placed throughout the soundtrack (during the initial break-out sequence, for whatever reason Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” is the choice of song), all of it neither leaving a mark on audiences over a particular age, nor challenging its target age group too much. It’s par for the course with animated films outside the usual Pixar or DreamWorks bandwagon, particularly the kind that sticks so close to formula that it’s difficult to pull it apart from all of the others.

Does that make it bad, though? Not exactly, for while Back to the Outback certainly isn’t a great film, it more or less just is what it is, and delivers all the expected conventions harmlessly enough. The animation is decent, allowing you to really see the textures of fur and scales on some of our animal protagonists, but the way that they’re designed with their big expressive faces and simplistic colour patterns always reminds you that you’re watching a cartoon, and not one of the more realistically-designed worlds you’d find in an animated movie from a much larger studio. The characters, too, fall into the “okay” category; none of them are particularly annoying, but a lot of their personalities are largely stock and all too familiar within this particular template, with only the occasional stand-out moment from any of them, albeit for unintentionally awkward reasons (Guy Pearce’s spider character perhaps has the most horny jokes out of any animated character this year, right down to the visual gag of his web being, well, something much grosser).

You’re more or less following a plot you’ve seen many times over, with characters that have equally been redone numerously, with humour that certainly panders to its young age demographic and leaves little for their older guardians to unironically enjoy. For kids, though, it’s serviceable enough entertainment that should give you at least an hour of distraction so you can recharge your batteries, but don’t be too surprised if they start getting antsy midway through, because chances are that even they may have seen some of these things before in stronger, more unique media.

If you’re up for an animated Australian adventure, try and find The Rescuers Down Under on Disney+ instead – you’ll find plenty more outback fun for more people over a certain age group than you will here.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Back to the Outback is a harmless but disposable animated movie that’s best used as a colourful ninety-minute distraction for young kids, though it’s fine enough viewing for them to absorb.

Back to the Outback will be available on Netflix from Friday 10th December 2021.

It is also now showing in select cinemas nationwide.

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