Well, this is an unexpected pleasure, an Oz-wise kids’ comedy with wit, slang and a little edge.
“Back to the Outback” is an Australian “Madagascar,” an “escape from the zoo” comedy that leans into the continent/country’s reputation for having more wildlife than can kill or maim you that any place else on Earth.
It also isn’t shy about sending up the locals, the humans who labeled the assorted snakes, great whites, spiders, and crocs “monsters,” and got a lot of tourist and TV show mileage out of it.
Somewhere, Steve Irwin is blushing, and having a laugh.
The critters live in the Australian Wildlife Park just across the bay from the Sydney Opera House. The star of the park is the cuddly koala, Pretty Boy, most adorbs of the adorable kangaroos and quolls, bilbies and quokkas. He even has his own web cam.
But the big draws are the “monsters” from the “Danger House,” with Jackie the croc entertaining the paying guests by scaring them and making mean with trainer/handler and all around butch boy Chazz Hunt (Eric Bana). He’s teaching his son the ropes, and those ropes are used to lasso critters and keep them in line.
Jackie (voiced by Jacki Weaver) is the old timer of the Danger House. She regales the lizards, scorpion Nigel (Angus Imrie) and funnel web spider Frank (Guy Pearce) with tales of the “Outback,” from whence they all came.
Medusa, or “Maddie” (Isla Fisher), the Taipan snake, the “most deadly” venomous snake on Earth, was raised by Chazz and makes her debut in a show, but finds herself shocked when people recoil from her thanks to Chazz’s hype and rough treatment. Maddie is heartbroken. And hearing about the Outback, her “home” that she never knew, is cold-blooded comfort.
One day things get out of hand with the croc show and Jackie is trapped and shipped off. That’s Maddie’s final straw. She’s leaving. Nigel, Frank and the thorny devil lizard Zoe (Miranda Tapsell) join her.
And naturally, events conspire to force them to take that pampered, narcissistic koala, Pretty Boy (Tim Minchin) along. Not that he wants to go.
They have to make their way across the bay — helped by a Great White — learn about “U.S.S.” the “ugliest secret society” of scorned creatures, who might help them, keep Pretty Boy in line and find their way to the Blue Mountains which all of them once called home.
The quest narrative is as old as the hills, but that’s how they encounter helpful spiders, bullfrogs (Keith Urban), a wild boar (Kylie Minogue) and others who help them along.
The humans are almost to a one louts and tough-guy posers. Chazz has to impress little Chazzie, his boy, with his fearlessness, exploits and his perfect grasp of Oz slang.
“Stone the crows” to “crikey” to “I once captured 10 Komodo dragons with no more than a pair of budgie smugglers and a bit of Vegemite.” I’d quote more, but “Let’s not spit the dummy, son.”
No idea what’s he’s talking about there.
The movie is not all that original, but never less than cute, with “Invisalign” and “conditioner” cracks coming from the pampered koala, Fisher singing the others to sleep and humans, save for one little Aboriginal girl, hilariously frightened by them and hellbent on killing or trapping them.
There’s even a moment when two bars are emptied out with bikers and martini drinkers pitching in on the hunt. Drinking and driving in out Mad Max bikes and Utes! Waltzing Matilda without the song!
It’s formulaic, but good clean fun. And it’s a fair dinkum way for the kiddos to learn Oz wildlife and Oz slang in a cartoon.
Cast: The voices of Isla Fisher, Jacki Weaver, Eric Bana, Tim Minchin, Guy Pearce, Rachel House, Kylie Minogue and Keith Urban.
Credits: Directed by Harry Cripps and Claire Knight, scripted by Harry Cripps and Gregory Lessans. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:35