The world of animals is a curious big world for little kids. Which is why zoos top the list of places children are taken to as part of school picnics. And the 2021 animated film “Back To The Outback” bursts that happy bubble associated with them. Sort of.
Directed by Harry Cripps and Clare Knight, this Australian flavored film primarily targets children. The first few minutes aren’t very entertaining and kind of makes you wonder where the makers are trying to take the plot. The story follows a bunch of ‘dangerous’ reptiles, led by a venomous snake, who break out of the zoo they are held in captive, because they don’t want to be labeled as ‘monsters’ on display for visitors. Where are they headed? To the beautiful burnt sienna hued mountains in the outback, where the other animals dwell freely. But it’s obviously not going to be easy. Except that it kind of is, the lead creatures of this film manage a too good to be true kind of escape.
Kids should love the heart-warming story about animals trying to get back home and the short runtime really helps. The writing isn’t exceedingly clever or funny, but there’s a decent amount of family humor that will keep the younger viewers entertained. There are some interesting moral lessons to be learnt, like an anthem that goes something on the lines “I am ugly, you are ugly, everybody should be this ugly. Ugly is the new beautiful”. I love how the makers try to dismantle the age old fairy tale belief of ‘ugly is evil’ belief. For too long – snakes, scorpions and other reptiles have only been treated as pariahs or villains. Take the case of ‘The Jungle Book’, where Kaa the snake is one of the primary villains. Or the ‘Harry Potter’ series, where Lord Voldemort’s pet is the deadly Nagini. Or there’s the original biblical villain – Satan as the snake that tempts Adam and Eve. Even though they are also revered in many other cultures and countries. In this film, the beautiful blue snake Maddie (voiced by Isla Fisher) is the protagonist. She is kind, caring, puts her friends before her and is even nice to those who are mean to her. Her character is a complete subversion of how snakes are usually depicted in western movies and books, and it’s a refreshing change.
The animation is pretty standard, the animators don’t really push the envelope and stick to stock like characters that seem like slightly modified versions of cartoons we’ve already seen. Like the Koala called ‘Pretty Boy’, who is the star attraction at the zoo, strikingly resembles Buster Moon from the 2016 animation ‘Sing’. The outback terrain doesn’t stand out much, or at least will not awe adult viewers. But it’s a fun family pick for the weekend.
It’s a 6/10 from me. The film is available to stream on Netflix.
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