It’s aimed at kids, admittedly, but it’s still a shallow and bland use of Netflix’s on-screen interactivity.
If you watched Netflix’s previous interactive series starring Bear Grylls, You vs. Wild, you’ll have seen virtually everything that the new Animals on the Loose: A You vs. Wild Movie has to offer. That also means that if you read my review of the same, you’ll also know exactly how I feel about it. My stance hasn’t evolved since then, and neither, sadly enough, has the format — it still consists of Bear Grylls talking exasperatedly to the camera about how much protein leeches contain, although thankfully for less time. And yes, you can still make him eat the leech. In fact, I don’t think you can stop him.
I made it my objective in You vs. Wild to kill Bear Grylls as often as possible, and if I couldn’t manage that I at least contented myself with making him eat something grim. I went into Animals on the Loose with the same mindset and vaguely enjoyed making the chipper survivalist chow down on grubs and put himself on the menu of the local lion populace. But it’s a bland affair beyond that, doing nothing at all interesting with the premise of interactivity. As it happens, I left the whole thing to play without my input whatsoever, just out of curiosity, and it just continued apace, selecting default options for me. The overall experience wasn’t much different from when I was actively participating.
The choose-your-own-adventure format is an old one, but video games took it to far more interesting places than this. To this day, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch remains the only worthwhile TV version, and even then it came with its share of problems. But at least that seemed like it was trying to actually do — or at least say — something meaningful about the nature of choice and the potential of audience interactivity. These simplistic binary options are just dull, completely devoid of meaningful consequence, even within the so-called narrative that the film establishes for itself, at least partly because so little effort has been put into making that aspect believable. The acting, if you can call it that, of both Bear and the few people he communicates with via radio, leaves a lot to be desired, and fails to build any sense of drama or tension that would give the audience’s decisions, such as they are, any actual weight.
It’s aimed at kids, admittedly. But Animals on the Loose: A You vs. Wild Movie mostly just uses that as an excuse to be as dull and safe and patronizing as possible. If you want to teach your kids about choices having consequences, there are countless games that can deliver the message more capably than this. And if for whatever reason they find themselves stranded in a dangerous wilderness, I don’t think eating a leech is going to save them.