TV on DVD: “The Wild Thornberrys: Season One”

Written by Television, TV on DVD

Scott Malchus looks back at season one of the great 90’s animated series, “The Wild Thornberrys,” now on DVD.

The 90’s saw a resurgence in animation thanks in part to Nickelodeon’s rise in stature. The Nicktoons the network produced varied in style and content, but they were all quality shows with mass appeal. One of the underrated programs of that era was The Wild Thornberrys, an adventure show about an 12-year-old girl bestowed with the secret gift of being able to talk to animals. Fortunately for that girl, Eliza Thornberry, her parents were naturalist filmmakers on a never-ending journey around the world filming wildlife. This setup allowed Eliza to visit exotic locales and introduced the young viewers (and some older enthusiasts, too) to an array of animals.Besides Eliza’s parents, organized and strong willed mom, Marianne, and absent minded but kindhearted, Nigel, Eliza’s adventures also included her eye rolling, 16-year-old older sister, Debbie; her feral, half-brother, Donnie; and her best friend, a domesticated chimpanzee named Darwin.

The Wild Thornberrys was produced for Nickelodeon by Klasky-Csupo, the animation company behind Nickelodeon’s smash hit, Rugrats. While The Wild Thornberrys shares the same look as Rugrats, it is much more vibrant and exciting the baby series. Each episode of Thornberrys was unique in its own way, with a parade of animals and wonderful casting that really helped Thornberrys stand above your average kids show.

Eliza was portrayed by Lacey Chabert, best known for her work on Fox’s cult favorite, Party of Five. Chabert has an innocence in her voice that really taps into Eliza’s naiveté. Yet, there is also slyness to some of her reads, veering Eliza away from being too much of a goody two shoes. Darwin was portrayed by veteran voice actor, Tom Kane. Giving the chimp am erudite, snobby, English was genius. At first you think Darwin is going to be smarter and braver than Eliza, but it turns out that most of the time he’s just a big baby.

Debbie was played by Danielle Harris, and she brings the right combination of exasperation and sweetness to give the bored and tired teenager some depth. Marianne and Nigel were played by Jodi Carlisle and the legendary Tim Curry. Together the two actors created a loving and believable marriage, as well as fun and funny parents. Finally, Donnie, the little boy the Thornberrys found in the jungle and who can only speak in clicks and nonsense noises, was played by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The music superstar brought just as much manic energy he displays on stage to the part of the little boy, Donnie, and still infused the gobbledygook of the child’s dialogue with pep, love and affection.

In addition to the fine casting and the colorful art of The Wild Thornberrys, the show also featured the fine music of composer Drew Neumann. In each episode Neumann seemed to capture the atmosphere of whatever land the Thornberrys were visiting, whether it was Tanzia, Peru, Brazil or Indonesia. The scripts were always full of sharp, full of witty dialogue, and the action was more cinematic than what you would expect on television.

Shout! Factory has a deal with Nickelodeon to begin releasing the network’s classic 90’s series on DVD and The Wild Thornberrys is the first one out of the gate. Awesome. The Wild Thornberrys hasn’t been on television much since a certain sponge took over the airwaves and iCarly became a sensation. However, the time is right for the series to be discovered by a new generation of children and rediscovered by the kids of the 90’s (and their parents, too). This collection contains all 26 half hours of the first season, all in their original, unedited form.

The only disappointment I have with this DVD release is the lack of any bonus features. It seems that a show as creative and durable as The Wild Thornberrys could have used some commentary from the makers or writers of the show. Surely there must be some archival footage in a vault somewhere that shows the creation of the show or even how the show evolved from the pilot into series. Generally, Shout! Factory leads the field on providing this kind of content on the older shows and/or movies they release on DVD. I have to assume that Nickelodeon or Klasky- Csupo couldn’t be bothered to participate, which is a real shame. Nevertheless, there are hours of excellent television on these 4 discs in this collection.

As usual, I put an older show to the test and had my kids watch the shows with me. My nine year old son has really fallen for The Wild Thornberrys. His latest comment to me was that as soon as we’re done watching season one he wants to sit down and re-watch The Wild Thornberrys Movie. I look forward to that. I also look forward to seasons two through four being released on DVD so that our entire Thornberrys library is complete.

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