Brussels-based animation studio nWave Pictures are fighting back against Instagram’s cute cat propaganda this spring with the cinematic release of Robinson Crusoe. Told from the perspective of the island’s animal inhabitants, their furry entertaining interpretation of the classic story casts a tatty pair of ship’s ratters as a malevolent force pitted against our eponymous hero and his host of new friends. Multiplying faster than the cats and kits from the St.Ives rhyme these pussies make truly sinister foes. The anti-moggy lobby will be thrilled.
Mak and Robinson Crusoe were destined to be friends – living lives in parallel long before they met. Both dreaming of distant lands, whiling away their days wondering what mysteries lay beyond the horizon. As Crusoe struggles to find sea legs aboard ship Mak struggles to muster the enthusiasm to forage fruit for his friends’ daily luau on their little slice of paradise. Beneath his feathered breast beats the heart of an adventurer – frustrated by his failure to escape to somewhere new – fascinated by any proof of ‘other’ the sea delivers.
The two may never have met but for the thunderous deus ex machina co-directors Ben Stassen and Vincent Kesteloot bring down upon Crusoe’s vessel. The ship-wrecking storm – a breathtaking feast of gleefully agile 3D – sets Crusoe and his dog Aynsley on a collision path with the restless bird. Initially oblivious to his brand new island mates, Mak marvels at the seemingly unending flotsam and jetsam ‘evidence’ littering the shore. Encountering the giant broken ship is almost too much to bear. Here at last is affirmation… Humans might be real!
When the invaders are finally revealed writers Lee Christopher, Domonic Paris and Graham Welldon gleefully flip the script letting us enjoy the animals’ perspective of the gangly human invader and gently mocking his early attempts to make himself ‘at home’. The nWave team are equally adept at dishing out peril and quickly dispatch Crusoe’s loyal companion (in a distressing sequence which pulls few punches) making way for him to befriend Mak and christen him Tuesday. A nice hat tip to Daniel Defoe in a feature which plays fast and loose with his ideas.
Before long the lone human has overcome his imperialistic instincts and adapted to his curious new family. Carmello chameleon (Colin Metzger), Rosie the tapir (Laila Berzins), Epi the echidna (Sandy Fox) and Kiki the kingfisher (Lindsay Torrance) each have needs to be accommodated and catering to them shapes Crusoe’s accommodation AND broadens his perspective. The building scenes grant us ample opportunity to swoop and swoosh through the labyrinthine tunnels and caves nestled in the island’s rock face with giddying 3D once again coming to the fore.
If previous nWave Pictures productions The House of Magic, A Turtle’s Tale and its sequel showcased nWave’s gift for innovative animation, Robinson Crusoe absolutely celebrates it. From the grime on the sole of a sailor’s foot as he climbs the riggings to the witty not-quite-disappearing acts of Carmello, their attention to detail is impeccable. As is their embrace of 3D. Every one of the four stars on this review are in recognition of this achievement. In the dynamic final battle (with a fecund feline gang stalking Crusoe and his chums) the rock face water channel is transformed into a mega marble run – pinging our perspectives and frazzling nerves.
By contrast the words fall flat. If the visuals nimbly dance then the script has two left feet. Or, to paraphrase Eric Brockovich, two wrong feet in…ugly shoes. While the gentle humour translates perfectly well (unusually so for a dubbed feature) the dialogue is pedestrian bordering on dull and seriously lets the side down. The vocal performances are adequate – if confusingly multiply accented, considering the majority of characters have spent their entire lives in one location – yet lack the sparkle and energy of the aesthetic.
Robinson Crusoe offers captivating thrills and non stop entertainment for an under 8 audience. Older siblings and adult escorts may struggle with the uninspired story – familiar to anyone who has tolerated insipid holiday offerings like Rio and Epic – but will be repaid for their patience by the breathtaking finale. Overall one could do far worse this Whitsun. At the very least you’ll give the children a literary name to drop and support a promising European studio as they continue to raise the bar for the future of 3D animation.