From A to the Forest: Our Review of ‘Back to the Outback’

Posted in Netflix, What's Streaming? by - December 10, 2021
From A to the Forest: Our Review of ‘Back to the Outback’

Adults tell kids that beauty is in the eye of the beholder even though adults have their own calcified version of beauty. People in real life judge each other based on their individual and nebulous standards. Those nebulous standards also reminds me, ironically enough, of what Anthony Oliveira once said about everything cute. To paraphrase him, everything cute has to be a bit ugly. And the Venn diagram of those adjectives apply to the ‘good’ characters in Back to the Outback, Netflix’ new animation film about Australian animals in captivity who get the ‘ugly’ label and the other labels that go with it.

The former leader of that pack is an alligator or crocodile, Jackie (Jacki Weaver’s voice). Because she ‘threatened’ the son of an adventurer/ zookeeper Chaz (Eric Bana), Chaz sends her away. A few of the animals are worried about her including a snake, Maddie (Isla Fisher). She escapes the zoo alongside a spider (Guy Pierce) and a few of the ugly animals. Their last and and reluctant travel companion is a koala, Pretty Boy (Tim Minchin). He joins Maddie and crew even if he’s one of the ‘pretty’ animals. Since he’s ‘pretty,’ he treats his fellow ‘ugly’ travelers in a snobbish way. Will he change his ways? Since this is a kid’s movie that question is more rhetorical.

Back to the Outback, to its credit, gives these animals a bit more depth than just asking for sympathy from its human characters. It makes them street smart. That’s a surprising quality they need during the middle act. During that time, they have to find their way from Sydney to the titular outback. This a to b trajectory, however, gives this film a flaw. It’s the flaw that most films this season has in a way that it rushes through those first two acts. This is the rare occasion where I would have wanted five to ten minutes longer to let these animals breathe.

This is also the rare incident in a film where I would have loved to see different versions of it. For example, viewers could have had a live action of people in or out animal suits where actors try to break out of a prison or zoo look for Jacki Weaver which, same. The film also displays different animation aesthetics like the ones they show in the one real musical number or the post credits scene. We would have loved those other versions as much as they might this one. Speaking of musical numbers, there’s one where Pretty Boy struts to Todrick Hall’s music which some people are not going to like.

Anyway, despite wishing for all of those alternate versions I’m still happy with one that we got. For the adults who worry that this is only for children, let’s just say that there’s enough here to make watching this worthwhile. And the animation work here has some subtle wonders like the way it lights up the outback during the daytime. There’s a weight to that light that, to Maddie, her fellow pugly creatures, and to us, makes it feel like home.

Watch Back to the Outback on Netflix.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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