Wild America details the adventures of three brothers who happen to be amateur nature documentarians. Unfortunately, the film never manages to be as interesting as the subjects they are pursuing.
Wild America opens in the late 60s, where Marty (Scott Bairstow), Mark (Devon Sawa), and Marshall Stouffer (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) all work for their domineering father putting together and distributing carburetors. However, Marty, the eldest, has a dream. He wants to travel the world, taking pictures of wild animals before they all up and die. In a fit of rebellion, with his two younger brothers in tow, he sets out on a cross-country trek to capture America’s most dangerous predators on film, and return before school starts in the fall.
Naturally the trio get involved in all sorts of wacky, preposterous adventures on the way. Their ultimate goal is to find the Cave of the Thousand Sleeping Bears, where thousands of grizzly bears unnaturally hibernate together during the summer. Along the way they meet up with alligators, moose, wild horses, eagles, wolves and all sorts of other critters.
However, for all the elaborate staging, and mock kids-in-peril thrills, none of their adventures hold any wonder or amazement. In fact, some actual nature footage is played over the end credits, and is much more entertaining than the movie that preceded it. Where did the magic go? Why couldn’t they have captured any of that for the movie? The answer is simple: the filmmakers preferred to focus on the documentarians rather than their subject. On the whole, that shouldn’t preclude Wild America from being entertaining, but the three boys are so flat and lifeless that the strained effort to include them in every scene they’re attempting to document kills it outright.
Their adventures at home don’t help much either, padding the film to uncomfortable lengths. Sure, the film means well, with its weighty morals (everyone has to make his own path, families should stick together, etc.), but it is presented in such a tired and routine manner that it bogs down the movie in pointless melodrama.
None of the acting in Wild America is exceptional. Jonathan Taylor Thomas has the showiest role, and the largest fan base, which is presumably why, though teetering on the brink of awkward adolescence, he was chosen to narrate the film. To stretch his range as a dramatic actor, he seems to have studied Christian Slater’s Jack Nicholson impersonation.
Wild America is likely to please devoted fans of its young stars, but few else. The animal antics might entertain some children, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re better off watching nature shows on tv.