The film begins with Samson, a lion, telling his son Ryan stories of his adventures in the wild. Ryan attempts to imitate his father's roar, but all he can manage is a squeaky growl. Ryan is teased by the zoo guests and he sulks away in his tree. During the night, when the zoo closes, all the animals are free to roam. Samson heads off to play a game of curling with the other animals, while Ryan is taunted to come with his friends to stalk the gazelles like his father. On the other hand, Samson observes as his best friend Benny, a squirrel, tries to get Bridget the giraffe to go out with him, but she is clearly not interested. Meanwhile, Ryan's friends sneak into the gazelle exhibit. Ryan tries to stop them with a roar, but growls instead. However, it wakes the gazelles into a stampede, which ruins his father's game. He gets angry at Ryan, berating him for spending all day sulking. Ryan retaliates by saying he sulks because he would feel much better being a loser if his father wasn't 'Samson the Wild'.
That night, Ryan accidentally gets shipped into the 'Green Boxes', which Legend tells will take him to the wild. With the help of a pigeon, Samson and Benny go after him, sneaking into a garbage disposal truck. However, Nigel (an unlucky koala), Larry (a dim-witted anaconda) and Bridget tag along to help as well, accidentally throwing Benny off the truck. After nearly being crushed in the garbage disposal, the group encounters a pack of rabid stray dogs. To their surprise, Samson makes them hide in the sewer rather than fight. There, they take directions from two street wise alligators who lead them to the docks.
The next morning, the four friends steal a boat (quickly figuring out they can't actually drive it) to chase after Ryan's ship. They reunite with Benny, who has enlisted some Canadian geese to help steer the crew in the right direction. After several days, Nigel goes mad with the heat and thirst, and, under the impression they have hit an iceberg, jumps overboard. Luckily, the boat has run aground in Africa. The group quickly discovers that all the animals in the area are being evacuated, as a nearby volcano has begun billowing ominous black smoke. They witness Ryan escaping, but he runs into the jungle before they can stop him. Samson attempts to use his instincts to find him, but it is quickly revealed that he has never been in the wild before. The rest of the group head back to the ship, but Samson decides to keep trying to find Ryan.
While walking Samson sees plants and rocks turning into different colors; he thinks they are his senses. Nigel is captured by a group of wildebeests who dwell in the volcano, and their leader Kazar pronounces him King, based on an 'omen' he received when he was young. About to be devoured by lions, a toy koala fell from the sky (unknown to him it was actually from a plane) and scared the lions away, saving his life. Organizing the wildebeest herds into some sort of cult, Kazar wants to change the food chain; he no longer wants his kind to be at the bottom, but would rather see "prey become predators" and vice versa. For this, he needs to sacrifice a lion. Bridget and Larry are also captured and held prisoner.
Ryan is left sheltering in a branch of an old tree, but he is attacked by a gang of vultures acting under orders from Kazar. The branch breaks and traps his paw. Ryan attempts a roar but again can only manage a squeak. Samson hears Ryan's cries and runs to save him, scaring off the birds. The two reunite, but are interrupted by a pack of wildebeests. Ryan is shocked when Samson tells him to run. The two retreat to a tree where Samson reveals the truth - he was born in the circus and, like Ryan, couldn't roar. His father was ashamed, telling him a wild lion could roar, before allowing his son to be sent to the zoo, where Samson lied to avoid the shame. Meanwhile, the wildebeest discover them and, in the scuffle, send the tree over the cliff, with Samson still hanging on. Ryan is taken back to the volcano to be sacrificed.
Samson is found later by Benny, and together they follow Samson's 'instinct' to the volcano in which the wildebeests are. This instinct turns out to be a group of chameleons who can camouflage themselves to look like they are leading his way - they help Samson because they want to see the wildebeests overthrown. Nigel tries his best to distract Kazar and the others from harming his friends (who are going to be cooked in a fire for dinner), but eventually Samson appears. He ends up fighting Kazar in order to protect the others and Ryan. As they fight, Kazar orders the other wildebeests to help him. His second in command, Blag, tells him that the wildebeests are tired of pretending to be something that they're not, and refuse to help. In response, Kazar continues fighting by himself - but both Samson and Ryan finally find their real roars. Samson then unleashes a roar so powerful, knocking out Kazar and triggering the eruption of the volcano.
The animals hurry outside, but Kazar remains, ecstatic about finally being 'top of the food chain'. However, he is crushed by rocks as the volcano explodes. Luckily, Samson, Ryan, Bridget, Nigel, Larry, Benny, Cloak, Cameo, and the wildebeest all escape, leaving the wild just seconds before the volcano triggers an eruption that destroys it completely. Ryan tells Samson that he is glad that he saw the wild before it disappeared and he and his father reconcile. Both are happy that they found their roars. Meanwhile Benny tells Bridget that she is more than just a ‘goddess’ that she's also strong and independent, much to Bridget's delight, and she kisses him, thus starting their relationship. Samson and Blag begin a dance off, and all the animals join in.
It ends with a fade out but, before total blackness, the music pauses and one of the wildebeest peers through the hole, which closes on his neck and chokes him. He coughs and Nigel appears, holding the Statue of Liberty torch that he has carried throughout the film, and hits the wildebeest with it. He then apologizes to the audience, breaking the fourth wall in the process.
Criticism caused by Madagascar similarities
The movie has too many similarities to Madagascar including its setting in New York's Central Park Zoo, similar animals as characters, and the primary plot of introducing zoo animals to the wild. The name of the film and the tag line, "Start spreading the newspaper", a play on the opening line from the "Theme from New York, New York", were both used as integral plot points in Madagascar. Rotten Tomatoes describes the critics' consensus on The Wild as "With a rehashed plot and unimpressive animation, there's nothing wild about The Wild". The common theme with Finding Nemo is an animal father on the search for his kidnapped son. But considering the fact that The Wild had been in production months before Madagascar, it only became a "clone" of the film due to its unfortunate release sometime after Madagascar.
This would not be the first time for Disney and DreamWorks that two films with a similar theme were released in proximity timewise. In the fall of 1998, DreamWorks released its talking bug film Antz mere weeks before Disney/Pixar released A Bug's Life. A similar scheduling occurred in 2000 when DreamWorks released The Road to El Dorado against Disney's The Emperor's New Groove, both set in Central/South America. In 2001, Pixar released Monsters Inc. almost simultaneously with DreamWorks' Shrek, both telling stories about monsters. Later on in 2004, DreamWorks released Shark Tale, which had an underwater theme resembling that of Pixar's Finding Nemo (2003).
Similar themes between Disney's and DreamWorks' films were not limited to animated films. In 1998, Disney's Touchstone Pictures released the blockbuster Armageddon two months after DreamWorks' Deep Impact. However, it should be noted that none of the other films were criticized for being a copy of another film.
- Samson: Samson is a male lion and the protagonist of the film. His son, Ryan, is lost after lecturing him for inadvertently putting the others in danger. While he has been always known to be wild, he is really a circus lion cub, and a zoo lion at heart. Even though he brags about knowing a lot about the wild, his secret is that he's never really been, and is making all of the stories up. Samson is a good person though, and doesn't mean to fool his friends. Voiced by Kiefer Sutherland.
- Benny: Benny is a street-smart squirrel with great knowledge. He is Samson's best friend and is the only one who knows Samson's secret. He also has a huge crush on Bridget and at the beginning of the movie asks her out but she refused. Voiced by James Belushi.
- Kazar: The antagonist of the film, Kazar is a wicked wildebeest who no longer wants to dwell at the bottom of the food chain. He is somewhat insane, actually wanting to eat meat and was successful in convincing other wildebeest. Attempting to eat Samson and his friends, he is soon defeated by Samson and Ryan, and is left to perish in the volcano where he and his minions (though they don't really want to) plan to turn predators into prey (This character was one of the reasons why the movie was unsuccessful). Voiced by William Shatner.
- Nigel: Hallucinating and always unpredictable, Nigel is a koala who's recognized by the NY Zoo's famous plush toy and is tired of being "cute". Assisting Samson in rescuing Ryan, his life is somewhat changed, however, when he's worshipped by wildebeests upon reaching Africa. Worshipped because of a talking plush which is responsible for scaring a pack of lions that away when it falls off a biplane, into the savannah plains. Nigel soon sees the error of his ways when the wildebeests attempt to eat his friends and escapes with the others back home. Voiced by Eddie Izzard.
- Bridget: An insecure and easily pampered giraffe, Bridget is the only female in the group. She is quick-witted and wants to be seen as strong and independent. Voiced by Janeane Garofalo.
- Larry: A dim-witted yet very good hearted anaconda who tries to keep up with Samson and the gang, despite his lack of hands or legs. Though he does help, being the stretchiest animal in the zoo, he can be many things, such as a turtle shooter at turtle curling. Voiced by Richard Kind.
- Ryan: Ryan is Samson's 11-year old son. After he and his friends, Eze and Duke, accidentally provoked a gazelle stampede and invoking Samson's anger over losing the curling championship, Ryan sneaks into a green transport box and winds up getting shipped to Africa. After reuniting and learning the truth about his father, he soon found his roar (back then all he can do is do a squeaky growl) after getting abducted by the wildebeests and heads back home with the others. Voiced by Greg Cipes.
- Blag: Kazar's poor assistant is always in trouble for the tiniest things. Though during Kazar's combat, he gets his sweet revenge he has always desired. Voiced by Patrick Warburton.
- Cloak and Camo: Covert agents or not, these chameleons were caught by Benny and shown to Samson, since they might know a thing or two about where Ryan is, but they turn out to be on Samson's side and help in rescuing Ryan. Cloak gets carried away easily; for instance, he revealed his and Camo's names. Camo is more serious than his partner, and sticks to covert agent rules, in contrast to Cloak's "revealing" nature. Voiced by Chris Edgerly and Bob Joles.
- Stan and Carmine: Two alligators looking ferocious, they might be deadly, but when settled, they can help. And so they do, while helping Samson and the gang get out of the sewers. Voiced by Lenny Venito and Joseph Siravo.
- Scraw and Scab: Two vultures who make quick cameos while finding Ryan out in the jungle, however, disappear, during Samson's mini combat. Voiced by Jonathan Kimmel and Eddie Gossling.
- Galena: Galena is Samson's wife and Ryan's mother. She was worried that Samson and Ryan are in danger and she relays on Benny to find them. She appeared in one of the movie's deleted scenes.
- The Dogs: These vicious mutts, apparently two rottweilers and a poodle, chase Samson and his companions through the city in hot pursuit. During this sequence, Samson has his chance to show courage, but fails - but he and his pals manage to escape from the dogs.
- Donald the Turtle: A turtle used for turtle curling at the zoo.
- Team Penguin: The competition team for turtle shelling in New York. The team's captain is a wise-guy with a Brooklyn accent named Victor.
- The Pigeons: They play a major part in telling where Ryan is headed, to the lady with the spikes. This flock of birds includes the temporarily insane and unlucky Hamir.
- The Canadian Geese: New friends of Benny that help at sea to find the ship that's holding Ryan. These geese are led by a spunky goose named Nelson (whose speech impediment bares a striking resemblance to that of Rutt and Tuke's in Brother Bear).
- Eze and Duke: A mischievous hippopotamus and kangaroo, they are Ryan's friends at the zoo who try to make him go "wild". They coax Ryan to come along with them to stalk a herd of gazelles, a prank that winds up backfiring.
- Colin the Hyrax: Samson mistakenly finds him going to the bathroom in some bamboo and tries to eat him, but can't, blowing his cover and revealing he's not from the wild.
- The Monkeys: A group of hecklers who harassed Nigel with a doll that looks like him.
- Dung Beetles: These absent-minded insects with Dutch accents mistake Benny for a ball of dung.
- Fergus Flamingo: One of the flamingo bullies that go rough on Nigel. He also sells fish heads at the turtle curling game.
- Rhinoceros: A rhino at the zoo with a foam hand on his horn who is Samson's "number one fan".
- Samson's father: Brutal, Samson's only parent appears in a flashback in the scene where Samson tells Ryan the truth. Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson.
- Mama Hippo and Baby Hippo: When Ryan meets a cute little baby hippopotamus, the infant's screaming mother throws her weight around (literally) which frightens Ryan and he runs off deeper into the jungle.
- Elephant: After the green box carrying Ryan has landed, the young cub escapes from it and encounters an oncoming elephant, who is absolutely terrified of him.
Reception and merchandise
The Wild opened in 2,854 theaters. According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned $9.5 million dollars in its first weekend at the box office, ranking #4. Its promotion was small, with only the following promoters: Kraft, McDonalds, Amazon (selling the products and mini promotions on its site), Buena Vista Games, Walt Disney Records and Walt Disney Book Publishing Worldwide.
As of November 5, 2006, the film has grossed a total of $37,384,046 in the United States box office & $102,338,515 worldwide. Its production budget, in contrast, was $80 million. The Wild was ranked #1 of the top DVD sales twice in Entertainment Weekly (The first time for October 6–12, 2006, the second time for October 13–19, 2006). Critical reception for The Wild has been negative. The film currently hold an 19% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 25% rating from a select group of critics.
The musical score is composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri. The song "Wild One (Johnny O'Keefe song) Real Wild Child" is performed by Everlife. The song "Good Enough" is performed by Lifehouse; "Really Nice Day" is performed by Eric Idle and John Du Prez; and "Big Time Boopin'" is performed by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The scores "Tales From The Wild", "You Can't Roar" and "Lost In The City" are only a few of the scores on the soundtrack, and "Come Sail Away" is performed by Styx. The soundtrack is available from Walt Disney Records. Clocks by Coldplay was played when the animals were in a garbage truck.
A video game for Game Boy Advance based on "The Wild" was released to coincide with the film. Players get to play as Benny the Squirrel and Samson the lion as they go through New York, the sea, and Africa to find Ryan, while battling the wicked wildebeest Kazar. The video game was rated "E" (for "Everyone") by the ESRB, with a note for Cartoon Violence. Games for the film on the disney.com website are "Alligator Alley", "Turtle Toss" and "Benny's Lunk Dunk".
- The three Lioness that were attacking Kazar where most likely Cougars, given their sounds, and the fact that Cougars are also known as Mountain Lions.
- The wild in this film is depicted as a dense jungle, but Wildebeests do not live in jungles, but rather they live in plains.