Back to the Outback is a 2021 Australian computer-animated adventure comedy film directed by Clare Knight and Harry Cripps, in both their directorial debuts, from a screenplay written by Cripps, and a story by Gregory Lessans and Cripps. An international co-production between Australia and the United States, the voice cast includes Isla Fisher, Tim Minchin, Eric Bana, Guy Pearce, Miranda Tapsell, Angus Imrie, Keith Urban, and Jacki Weaver. Akiva Goldsman also served as executive producer, with the film produced by Reel FX Animation Studios, Goldsman's Weed Road Pictures and Netflix Animation.
Tired of being locked in a reptile house where humans gawk at them like they're monsters, a group of Australia's deadliest creatures plot a daring escape from their zoo to the Outback.
Why It's Not Dangerous But Cute
- While it's moral has been hammered in and out many times and it does seem like a copy of another animated film, but done so well, the premise about dangerous reptiles and creatures escaping a zoo to be themselves is interesting.
- The film's setting in the Outback also makes sense, given that Australia is home to some of the world's most dangerous creatures (spiders, jellyfish, octopuses, snakes, etc).
- The characters range from tolerable to likeable:
- Maddie is a caring and adorable main character whose story arc is very engaging for young viewers.
- Pretty Boy, though irritating at first, does get some decent, if not perfectly paced, development.
- Chaz's stereotypical Aussie nature does add charm to his personality and his relationship with his son does lead to some heartfelt scenes.
- Frank's search for love does give the movie's humour some strength.
- Zoe's snarky remarks can be quotable.
- Nigel is just very adorable.
- Jackie is a very caring motherly figure.
- Adding to the likeability of the cast is the voice acting from many Australian talents, with Isla Fisher doing a decent job as Maddie, Tim Minchin making Pretty Boy an entertaining character even when he's unlikeable, and Eric Bana's Aussie voice as Chaz being the highlight of the cast.
- The animation is really nice and beautifully crafted:
- The character designs are cute and give these actually-dangerous creatures a friendly enough appearance to appeal to kids, especially compared to their real life counterparts.
- The character animation is uses cartoony movements and expressions that are more controlled and stable than most of Sony Pictures Animation's films.
- The landscapes give a spectacular representation of Australia's most recognisable landmarks, such as the Australian Wildlife Park (Taronga Zoo), Sydney Harbour, the Blue Mountains, the Three Sisters, the Outback itself, and (of course) Uluru.
- The lighting and shading further adds quality to the animation and makes the environments look even more spectacular.
- On top of the gorgeous visuals, there are several unexpected uses of traditional animation drawn in homage to Aboriginal Dreamtime artwork, particularly when Maddie's backstory is shown.
- A decent soundtrack album:
- Beautifully Ugly by Tim Minchin (the voice of Pretty Boy) and Evie Irie (who also recorded "Hello World" for the film) is a brilliantly written and performed song for the credits.
- Maddie's song is beautiful and really emotional.
- Many other songs are interesting, entertaining or just suitable for the movie.
- The score by Rupert Gregson-Williams (Bee Movie, Abominable, Wonder Woman), while a bit standard, has a lot of John Powell-esque energy and creativity (Rupert's brother, Harry, had previously collaborated with Powell on Antz, Chicken Run, and Shrek).
- While the jokes are a mixed bag, there are several that do earn a good laugh, such as the scene where Nigel's scream broke the "unbreakable glass" of their cage and he removed "un" from the unbreakable label.
- As said in WIR #2, Zoe's snarky remarks can be funny (e.g. during a show at the Wildlife Park, Chaz unveils Zoe from under his hat and asks "What's this disgusting thing under my hat?" to which she responds with "Your face?").
- The line "Ssalg elbakaerbnu" ("Unbreakable glass" backwards) also can earn a smile.
- The concept of the Ugly Secret Society (USS) is interesting, though it could've been better explored than it was in the film.
- For a decent family comedy, there are plenty of heartfelt moments:
- Entire movie is heartwarming because of characters' fates in the zoo. Most of the time we can feel bad for Maddie because she was mocked by people and cried 4 times a movie (multiple abusing, Jackie's loss, friends' capture and almost giving up in it) or another.
- The scene where Jackie is taken away from the Wildlife Park leaving Maddie and the other creatures of the Danger House all alone.
- The moment on the school bus where, while everyone else is scared of the Maddie and the gang, an Indigenous girl helps the creatures escape is a very touching moment, most likely done to show the spiritual connection between the Australian land and the Indigenous people.
- Chaz's relationship with his son is probably more engaging than the main plot for some, especially his backstory.
- The scene where Maddie sings a song she remembers is a real tearjerker, especially when it's accompanied by her backstory as an egg that was washed out of the nest, which was told through beautiful Dreamtime-inspired animation.
- The scene that followed where Pretty Boy starts bonding with Maddie makes up for how much of a jerk he was in previous scenes.
- The action scenes are creative and vibrant, ranging from the scene in the Sydney Sewage System to the Fire Truck chase in the Outback (remarkably, the film is sort of aware of how similar the chase is to Mad Max)
- The film gives a better representation of Australia than most Western-made depictions with subtler stereotypes and a more diverse environment than just the Outback. This American-made depiction of the country was only previously done in Finding Nemo.
- While most of the story is generic, it thankfully averts the worst clichés whenever it has the chance to use them.
- When Chaz reveals his true backstory to Chazzie, the infamous "liar revealed" trope is avoided.
- Not only was the scene where Pretty Boy leaves without saying goodbye not the typical "fight before the climax" cliché, but it was also funnier than it thought itself as.
- The film actually gave Tim Minchin and direction Harry Cripps another chance at working on an animated feature following the cancellation of DreamWorks' Larrikins, which was originally based on a concept by Cripps and would've featured music by Minchin.
- Depending on your perspective, the film's nature can provide a good source of nostalgia for those who grew up watching other animal-led computer-animated films in the early-2000s (Ice Age, Finding Nemo, Madagascar, Happy Feet, Open Season, etc).
Why It's a Little Dangerous
- While the story does have an interesting concept, the execution is plagued with problems:
- The plot, albeit not torturously, still uses generic tropes ("the outcasts are excluded from society because they're ugly" and "an arrogant jerk gains character development after tagging along with the outcasts" just to name a few.)
- Some can even interpret it as taking influence from the main story from Madagascar.
- While it's message is important, it's not very subtle.
- On the topic of the message, the scene where the characters release two Cane Toads could send the wrong messages. Yes, never judge a book by it's cover and don't call a snake a monster because of her venom, but Cane Toads are actually invasive species causing unimaginable damage to the Australian ecosystem. It gets worse in the ending when a huge swarm of them arrive in the Outback and the movie treats it as a happy ending when it's really not.
- Zoe even questions the idea of releasing them, though that brief moment is never addressed again. If you haven't seen the movie past that point in the running time, you might think the Cane Toads end up as a typical villain twist.
- The bond between Maddie and Pretty Boy, while nice and emotional, is abruptly established with little development, whether or not they're an official cartoon couple.
- The message about family is also nice, but barely goes anywhere other than the typical "character's friends are their real family" trope.
- While Maddie did look beautiful when she molted near the end, it didn't change much of her and wasn't really built up throughout the movie, making it almost pointless.
- Pretty Boy is a very unlikeable jerk in much of the first half, especially when he said that no family would want Maddie and the other creatures. Had he not gained character development, that moment would've been a major jump-the-shark for him.
- Most of the USS characters don't get much character other than helping the main cast. I doesn't help that they waste potential appearances from a larger celebrity cast (Keith Urban, Kylie Minogue, Rachel House, Celeste Barber, Wayne Knight, Aislinn Derbez, and Lachlan Ross Power who also did a good job).
- The pacing can be very inconsistent; it can't decide whether it wants to take it slow and steady in the heartfelt scenes or hit the accelerator for the rest.
- Jackie's return in the ending, while not bad, was given no buildup, especially since most viewers would've forgotten about her apart from a few mentions of her.
- While the character designs are cute, they and the message share the same problem as UglyDolls where they really aren't ugly at all just so they look appealing to young audiences.
- Though to be fair, the message could be more referring to their deadly abilities than their looks.
- Sometimes it can get bland to the point where it relies on toilet jokes, such as some Dung Beatles providing plenty of poop humour and one scene where Chazzie gives Chaz some water... which is actually urine. Thankfully, the last one was made in right way (they wanted to show Chaz's real personality on it but it was going on the entire movie).
- The characters, while likeable, can fall into the typical tropes that sort of makes them more 2-dimentional than what the movie wants them to be.
- The kiss between two frogs and they tie between their mouths can be very disturbing for some young audiences especially the G-rated film.
Back to the Outback was released to a mostly positive reception from critics and audiences, with many calling it a good movie for the family, though some were critical on how basic it's story was.
The film currently holds an approval rating of 88% on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 16 reviews, with an average rating of 6.30/10. The film has a weighted average score of 58 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 4 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
- Co-director and screenwriter Harry Cripps has previous written screenplays for The Magic Pudding, Penguin Bloom, and The Dry, while co-director Clare Knight had previously involved in the editing of Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and The Lego Movie 2.
- Eric Bana was previously Anchor in Finding Nemo and Wayne Knight (whose spouse is co-director Clare Knight) was also Al in Toy Story 2.
- The film was released the same month as Rumble, which was also produced and animated by Reel FX Animation Studios.
- Prior to it's worldwide Netflix release on December 10, the film received a limited theatrical release in Australia on December 3.
- Jodi Benson, Sarah Vowell, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jessalyn Gilsig, Juilanne Moore, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Aniston, Rebecca Romijn, Marcia Cross, Joan Cusack, Meg Ryan, and were all considered to voice Maddie before Isla Fisher was cast.
- Template:Rotten Tomatoes