Above average family adventure film blends Gary Paulsen’s beloved young adult novel Hatchet with Disney’s The Parent Trap for this impressively made, if at times admittedly contrived feature.
An intelligently structured work, Against the Wild chronicles two siblings who must put their thinking caps on and petty squabbles aside if they’re going to survive when the small plane carrying them to their dad’s place crash lands in the middle of the forest.
With their pilot Charlie knocked out and in need of medical care following sudden midair engine trouble, the two formerly feuding children start thinking on their feet. Unloading their heavy suitcases, Hannah (Erin Pitt) and Zach Wade (CJ Adams) reconfigure and repack their gear with the bare necessities – taking a majority of what’s available in the emergency kit and leaving the rest along with a note for the brave flier whose grace under pressure saved their lives.
Taking their Alaskan malamute dog Chinook with them for protection, the two head in the direction they landed, determined to reach the shoreline in order to get Charlie the help he needs. But without any adult supervision and only their own limited knowledge gleaned from cable nature TV shows and Cub Scouts along with common sense to guide them, the Wades are put to the test.
And soon they realize they have to survive not only the drop in temperatures at nightfall and harsh elements but the various animals of the wild that might be following their every move including grizzly bears during mating season.
Yet while the children act with incredible maturity – so much so in fact that some of their wise-beyond-their-years dialogue as Hannah sizes up Charlie as a reasonably attractive man and wonders why he’s still single is dubious and awkward to say the least, the Wade parents are a different story altogether.
Saddled with wooden dialogue and far too much emotional posturing as a stereotypical separated couple wherein he’s the predictable workaholic and she and the children have been ignored for years, the usually talented adult leads (Natasha Henstridge and Ted Whittall) come off unnatural and amateurish by default.
Reuniting to worry, argue and speak in expository paragraphs while helicopters and search parties go out looking for the kids with zero optimism, Henstridge and Whittall are basically there as adult placeholders embodying the destination of “home” that the kids are trying to reach.
And while the contrived, blink-and-you-missed-it fast family reunion that arises just in the nick of time hits a major false note in what had otherwise up until then been a stellar adventure film about children realizing they’re stronger working together than apart, it’s easily forgiven due to the quality of the overall work and its vital message.
Newly released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment, this Dove Family Approved feature makes a nice change of pace from traditional family fare. Moreover, it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that you can tell right from the start how much respect that he has for the intelligence and dignity of his young characters.
In the end, its flaws are forgotten as going against the grain of current Hollywood family fare that far too often treats children as a focus group or market they need to "sell" rather than young human beings to be empowered makes writer/editor/director Richard Boddington’s Against the Wild an even stronger survivor overall.
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