There's no way around it, so we might as well say it: Disney's The Wild is Madagascar meets The Lion King. Now, Madagascar is understandable, given the Hollywood hive mind that released Antz and A Bug's Life almost simultaneously, for example; both must have been in the works at the same time. But how Disney could cannibalize its own Lion King with another animated lion father-and-son, in which the son must find his roar and the father faces deadly wildebeests...I mean, c'mon!

In the New York City (read: Central Park) zoo, the big-talking Samson the lion (voice of Kiefer Sutherland) is a star attraction. (Ben Stiller's Alex the lion from that other movie must have been on vacation.) Samon's son Ryan (Greg Cipes) feels he can't measure up to his well-meaning but slightly smothering father, especially in the roar department. When the youngster makes a teenaged mess of things and accidentally endangers the other animals (including, as in that other movie, snarky penguins), Ryan sulks away into a cargo container on the zoo ground. The next morning, the youngster finds himself being trucked to who-knows-where-and so single father Samson and friends Benny the squirrel (James Belushi), Nigel the koala (Eddie Izzard), Larry the snake (Richard Kind) and Bridget the giraffe (Janeane Garofalo) all set off in hopes of finding, Ryan.

Like the lion, giraffe, hippo and zebra of Madagascar, the sheltered zoo animals find themselves headed to Africa-and sorry to quibble, but in a tugboat? The earlier film at least had the internal logic of the anthropomorphic animals getting there by ship. Once in the wild, of course, Samson and friends must confront their lack of jungle smarts, find a way to survive, and save their private Ryan.

Here's actually where the film takes a wonderfully weird turn. This bit of the wild includes a self-styled wildebeest prophet named Kazar (William Shatner, seemingly doing John Carradine in all his wild-eyed fire-and-brimstone solemnity). Kazar's conceit? He wants his herbivorous brethren to stop being low-beast on the food chain: He wants them to turn carnivore. It's a brilliant bit, deftly encapsulating megalomania and pathos.

For all the rest of the film's unoriginality (Nigel, like Sid the Sloth in Ice Age: The Meltdown, is hailed as a god by a well-choreographed troupe of, well, hoofers), The Wild moves along with solidly crafted wit. The computer animation itself is suitably remarkable, and surprisingly expressive: When the animals, escaping the zoo in the back of a garbage truck, first see the vast, metropolitan skyline and the kaleidoscope of Times Square, the childlike look of fear, wonder and excitement in their eyes may well bring a tear to yours.

-Frank Lovece