Given the fact that animated films are engineered toward children, when we watch them as adults, we recognize the story will impart some life lessons that kids should utilize to help grow up and mature. Sometimes a film can do this in such a way that a viewer can enjoy it no matter their age. Or at least allow them to feel that they haven’t wasted an hour and a half of their lives. There is nothing pioneering or edgy about the new Netflix movie Back to the Outback but it does deliver a sweet and important message wrapped up in some eye-pleasing animation.
At a Sydney, Australia animal park, there are cute and cuddly critters aplenty for visitors to gush over. From kangaroos to wallabies, the crowds just love them. Young koala Pretty Boy (voiced by Tim Minchin) even has an online feed where people all over the world can watch him. Over in the “Danger House,” however, are the other animals that Australia is famous for: the scary and deadly ones.
In here, snake Maddie (Isla Fisher), spider Frank (Guy Pearce), scorpion Nigel (Angus Imrie), and lizard Zoe (Miranda Tapsell) are taken out to frighten the audience once a day. Handler Chaz (Eric Bana) emphasizes their venom and fangs to make the audience shudder but crocodile Jackie (Jacki Weaver) makes them all feel better as the de facto mother of the group.
Unfortunately, Chaz’s annoying copycat son has to be saved from drowning one day by Jackie but the humans think she was attacking him, so they cart her off. The rest of the dangerous animals decide to escape back into the wild. They want to be free of people being scared of them. But they won’t get there without Chaz pursuing them. Plus, through an unlucky turn of events, Pretty Boy ends up going with them.
As you can probably tell, the central theme of this story is that appearances don’t matter. This is a significant idea for children to internalize, and God knows, there are plenty of adults who need a reminder too! The group even encounters the Uglies Secret Society (or U.S.S.) on their journey. This is a group of misunderstood animals who help each other. Their password is simple but memorable: “I’m ugly. You’re ugly. We should all be this ugly. Ugly is the new beautiful.” Yet this only makes the moral of the story feel emphasized, not overdone.
The characters here are often quite successfully crafted. Maddie may have venom that can kill 100 people with one drop but she just wants to be appreciated. Pretty Boy, meanwhile, starts off as a self-absorbed jerk. Of course, their adventure teaches him the error of his ways. Fun supporting characters pop up along the way too, including Tasmanian devils and a toxic toad voiced by Keith Urban! Yep, you read that right.
I also personally like the look of the animation style in this film. It is genuinely nice to look at, with soft lines and bold colors. I noticed too that the camera work created by the animators felt more dynamic at certain moments than typically found in this medium. Definitely a positive element.
If you need to please some kids with a piece of entertainment that won’t make you want to tear your hair out, Back to the Outback is a solid possibility. Anything ground-breaking will have to be found elsewhere, but this is an animated movie with a good necessary message and a distinctive visual style. This film makes sure the viewer knows that you can never forget it’s what’s inside that counts the most. Always a good thing to remember.