Entertainment Why this star-studded Aussie movie is so much more than Finding Nemo meets Madagascar
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Why this star-studded Aussie movie is so much more than Finding Nemo meets Madagascar

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In Finding Nemo, the central character was a cute little Clownfish, and in Madagascar, who can forget the adorable friendly creatures like the giraffe from New York Central Zoo and the mouse lemur.

Not so in this Netflix original Australian animation, Back to the Outback, where the five main characters are, well, dangerous.

Dreamworks Animation writer Australian Harry Cripps (who makes his directorial debut), told US entertainment website The Wrap that the bosses were slightly concerned about a poisonous snake being the central character – not to mention a venomous spider, a thorny devil and a scorpion.

“I went to the dark side,” he said.

Co-director Clare Knight, also a Dreamworks editor who knew how tough it was to work with snakes after her time on the Kung Fu Panda franchise, tells The Wrap “a lot of executives would say to us, ‘A snake? Snakes aren’t huggable’.

“Does your lead have to be a snake?

“And it was a challenge for us that we really wanted to make these animals appealing.”

In the end, the official synopsis is kinda cute: “Tired of being locked in a reptile house where humans gawk at them like they’re monsters, a ragtag group of Australia’s deadliest creatures plot a daring escape from their zoo to the Outback, a place where they’ll fit in without being judged for their scales and fangs”.

Does this shot look eerily similar to a Max Max scene? Photo: Netflix

They do just that, employing the age-old, win-every-time strategy of familiarity.

The voice-over cast reads like a who’s who of Australians in the entertainment industry, including Isla Fisher, who plays Maddie the poisonous snake with a heart of gold, Miranda Tapsell is self-assured Thorny Devil lizard Zoe, Guy Pearce as lovelorn hairy spider Frank, and Angus Imrie who plays a sensitive scorpion Nigel.

Their nemesis is Tim Minchin (who supplies the songs in the film) who plays Pretty Boy, a cute but obnoxious koala and the zoo keepers (Chaz is voiced by Eric Bana) hot on their trail are wearing Steve Irwin-esque safari suits.

Not to mention Keith Urban and Jacki Weaver get involved.

And then they go one step further.

As The Wrap is quick to point out, the film is “full of homages to some of the best, most memorable Australian cinema”.

“[There is] all of the Mad Max films … We saw about 30 minutes of footage but it ended before they actually reached the outback.”

Cripps and Knight were also inspired by Strictly Ballroom and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and one iconic 1962 international hit.

Lawrence of Arabia was a big one. That idea of these tiny little animals in a vast environment,” Knight said.

“That was something that really was a key concept of ours when we were looking at live-action movies for reference.”

No capes from atop the Priscilla bus, so another Mad Max chase scene? Photo: Netflix

Knight and Cripps said that working for the streaming giant’s animation unit (with animation provided by the Dallas, Texas-based Reel FX) was “a wonderful thing”.

“We’re first-time directors, so Netflix is willing to give us a shot and give us a voice, so we really feel great,” Knight tells The Wrap.

Undoubtedly Cripps is full of appreciation for the finished product, having worked on another Dreamworks Animation project, Larrikins, a Tim Minchin $100 million musical that was cancelled after four years in development.

“Growing up in Australia, I spent a lot of time in the Blue Mountains which has many different types of snakes and spiders, and I always preferred them to the cute cuddly animals,” Cripps told Deadline.

“So it’s such a treat to make a film where the heroes are these poisonous but beautiful little creatures.

“This film is a love letter to Australia’s incredibly diverse and unique wildlife.”

Back to The Outback is in select cinemas in December and on Netflix from December 10