The Wild Thornberrys Movie is a 2002 animated family feature film based on the 1998 television cartoon series of the same name. It was produced by Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies and released into theaters on December 20, 2002.
The film begins with twelve-year-old Eliza Thornberry, playing with a family of cheetahs in East Africa, where her parents work as roving wildlife photographers for a television nature show. Eliza has the magical ability to talk and communicate with wild animals. The cheetah mother, Akela, has left Eliza in charge of her cubs; however, Eliza strays beyond the security of the area, and one of the cheetah cubs, Tally, is kidnapped by a poacher. Eliza's persistent efforts to rescue the cub lead her British grandmother Cordelia (who is visiting them) to send her off to an English boarding school, as Cordelia believes that Eliza is constantly endangering herself in Africa and Eliza will be much safer in England. Eliza is unhappy because she will no longer be able to view the imminent solar eclipse and will not be able to locate Tally. Debbie, a materialistic girl who dislikes Africa, is upset and envious that she is not the one being sent away to London.
Darwin, who is Eliza's "pet" chimpanzee and best friend, smuggles himself into her luggage and travels to school with her. Rumors about Eliza's past spread through the school, but Eliza becomes more popular over time. However, Eliza quickly becomes fed up of the school and manages to persuade a stuck-up British school girl to lend her a visa in order to get out of London.
Eliza and Darwin catch an airplane back to Africa followed by a train back to their family's site. While on the train, the duo notice an injured rhino outside the train and get off to help it. Eliza speaks with the rhino who tells her that he was shot at the river. Then they are assisted by a young couple, Bree and Sloan Blackburn, supposedly animal zoologists, and the rhino is taken away by a ranger.
A night spent when the couple reveals that the two are actually the poachers planning to kill the elephants coming through the pass on the day of the eclipse. Eliza also discovers Darwin, who was kidnapped. Eliza is discovered by the poachers while she is sneaking around in their RV and they interrogate her about how she came to know about the rhino and the fence.
Meanwhile, Debbie has been left alone by Nigel and Marianne to take care of her mischievous adopted brother Donnie near their recreational vehicle, the Comvee. One day, Debbie becomes lost in the jungle while trying to find Eliza, Donnie, and Darwin. She comes to a friendly native village where no one speaks English. After several failed attempts to get her motorcycle out of the mud in which it is stuck, she meets a teenage boy from the village named Boko who helps her to get the motorcycle out. The village members, worried that Debbie will get killed out in the wilderness, send Boko as her guide. Eliza is tied up by Bree and Sloan, and as she tries to get free Darwin is angry that they're in this situation and accuses Eliza of not knowing how to use her powers properly. Frustrated, Eliza snaps at Darwin and orders him to be quiet.
Back at the poachers' camp, as Eliza is getting her hands tied Bree hears someone coming. They finally find Debbie, and the two end up in a skirmish with the poachers. Boko is lost during the commotion, and tries to save Debbie. Sloan threatens to throw Debbie over a cliff if Eliza doesn't tell him the truth about how she knew about their plan. Eliza claims that she just guessed about the fence and the explosives Sloan plans to use, however he now knows she's lying since he never mentioned explosives and demands to know where she's getting her information from. With no other way to save Debbie, Eliza is forced to admit that she can talk to animals. Having broken the rule about never telling anyone about her powers, a storm suddenly arrives and takes them away. Sloan and Bree flee while the others end up on a log drifting down the river as the storm continues.
After the storm has stopped, Debbie and Eliza talk about her powers and Eliza feels guilt for yelling at Darwin earlier and now can't apologize to him. Debbie is shocked to realize that Eliza is telling the truth and just what she gave up to save her, and apologizes for some things she had done in the past. They get to the pass, just in time for the eclipse. They find hundreds of elephants, being led to death by their matriarch, unaware of the fence. During the eclipse, Bree and Sloan get their henchmen to detonate explosives in the valley, so they can get the elephants to stampede. Eliza jumps onto Phaedra, and desperately tries to tell her to stop. She uses a necklace Nigel gave her before she left and hurls it at the fence. It begins to react and the elephants quickly stop. Bree and Sloan order their henchmen to fire off another round of explosives, making the elephants charge towards it again. Then Eliza remembers how elephant mothers tell their young how to go; she taps the elephant behind its ear, causing her to stop right in front of the fence. Everyone stops and are finally saved. The poachers become angry and notice what is happening.
Sloan swings in on the helicopter, grabs Eliza, and throws her into a raging river, but not before saying that she won't be there once he and Bree cut out the elephants' "ivory" tusks. Eliza then meets Shaman Mnyambo who tells her that she saved the day using not her powers but with her heart. As a reward, he gives Eliza her powers back but there is another problem since Debbie now knows about them. The eclipse ends, Eliza apologizes to Darwin as they share a hug, the helicopter is pulled out of the sky by the elephants, and the poachers are arrested by rangers. They return to their parents and bring Tally back to his mother.
Eliza tells Debbie that there's an extra condition to her powers; if Debbie does not keep the secret, she will be turned into a baboon. Upon hearing this information, Debbie becomes outraged and interrupts her father's recording session. The baboon turns on the radio which plays Brandy, P. Diddy, and Bow Wow's "Dance With Us". The baboons and the Thornberrys dance together while the cheetahs play with each other on a hilltop overlooking their campsite as the film ends.
- Lacey Chabert - Eliza Thornberry, the main character that has the ability to talk to animals.
- Danielle Harris - Debbie Thornberry, Eliza's older sister.
- Tim Curry - Nigel Thornberry and Col. Radcliffe Thornberry, Eliza's Father and Grandfather respectively.
- Jody Carlisle - Marianne Thornberry, Nigel's wife who operates the film camera.
- Tom Kane - Darwin Thornberry, a chimpanzee that travels with the family. A close friend of Eliza.
- Michael Balzary - Donnie Thornberry, a feral boy raised by orangutans.
- Obba Babatunde - Boko, a native boy Debbie runs into later on.
- Brenda Blethyn - Mrs. Fairgood, a teacher at the boarding school.
- Rupert Everett and Marisa Tomei - Husband and wife Sloan and Bree Blackburn, wildlife conservationists, or so they say.
- Lynn Redgrave - Grandmumsy Cordelia Thornberry, the mother of Nigel Thornberry and wife of Col. Radcliffe Thornberry.
- Cree Summer - Phaedra, the elephant Eliza is riding at the start of the film.
- Alfre Woodard - Akela, mother of the kidnapped cub.
- Melissa Greenspan - Sarah Wellington, Eliza's roommate at Madame Beatrice's.
It opened in the box office in the United States on December 20, 2002, and finished at #6 for the weekend, with only $6 million for 3,012 theaters, for an average of only $1,997 per venue. The film ended up with a modest $40 million domestically, partly because the film came out on the same day as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. But, in light of generally favorable reviews, it managed to out-gross its holiday animated feature behind Disney's Treasure Planet.
It is one of only fourteen feature films to be released in over 3,000 theaters, and still improve on its box office performance in its second weekend, increasing 22.5% from $6 million to $7.4 million.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 80% of 89 critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.7/10. On Metacritic the film has a score of 69% based on reviews from 35 critics.
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a witty and delightful Christmas present for the entire family". Thomas said it "balances some honest heart-tugging with a sophisticated sense of humor", making it rare among children's films. Writing for The New York Times, Dave Kehr described it as an "extended Saturday morning cartoon" that is "bland but harmless", comparing it negatively to Disney's The Lion King. In USA Today, Claudia Puig rated it 3/4 stars and wrote, "The Wild Thornberryswill no doubt brighten the day of parents looking for family activities during the holidays." It was also well reviewed by Boston.com and Film4.
- This Could Be The Beginning Of A Beautiful Adventure.
- New Home. New Friends. No Powers.
- You don't need extraordinary powers to do extraordinary things.
- Go Wild!!!
- The shaman looks drastically different and more confident than in the show.
- Boko, an African Tribe member, befriends Debbie and gives her a skirt. She is seen wearing it, and then in the next scene when she leaves the Tribe, she is wearing her pants again.
- This is the first and, to date, only film based on a Nicktoon to earn an Academy Award nomination.
- This is the only Klasky Csupo film production with Nickelodeon Movies where Mark Mothersbaugh is not the composer, as he is not involved with the original series, either. He did, however, provide music for Rugrats Go Wild, which featured characters from The Wild Thornberrys.
- This is the first Nickelodeon film to be produced in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio; all of that company's previous films were produced in 1.85:1.