Back to the Outback

Four Aussie reptiles -and one hostage Koala- rise up against their killer reputation in a snappy, crowd-pleasing new film.

In their Sydney-based Wildlife Park, Maddie, Frank, Zoe and Nigel are deadly.

But hey, this is Australia, and it’s good to be Deadly, right?

For a taipan snake, Thorny Devil lizard, hairy spider and scorpion that’s not quite the case, given that tourists see them as ‘killers and monsters.’

In a new Netflix animation these 4 just wanna be loved, and get back to their true home in the Outback. Wise old croc Jackie (Jacki Weaver), who has seen it all, has instilled in them a sense of family and courage -enough to break free from the daily shows conducted by zookeeper Chaz (Eric Bana) and his plucky apprentice son (Diesel La Torraca).

Back to the Outback lays on the colour and CGI animation with all the finesse of a Pixar feature. It’s penned and co-directed by Aussie Harry Cripps (The Dry, Penguin Bloom) but the production team has Kung Fu Panda, Titans, Prince of Egypt on their collective CV -giving this some serious pedigree.

From the opening sweeping shots of Sydney Harbour to the Taronga-meets-Irwin zoo and beyond, it looks immaculate. Sydney buildings, the Opera House, Museum of Contemporary Art and The Rocks streetscapes are convincingly animated.

Yet it is Cripps’ characters and the lively voice cast that give this story heart.

Isla Fisher features as Maddie, a snake with a heart of gold, Guy Pearce adopts a character voice as a lovelorn hairy spider Frank prone to interpretative dance, joining Miranda Tapsell as self-assured Thorny Devil lizard Zoe and Angus Imrie as sensitive scorpion Nigel.

“I’m not a monster am I?” asks Maddie.

The bane of their existence is ‘Pretty Boy’ a cutesy, popular Koala (Tim Minchin) who is pampered and preened, with his own 24 / 7 webcam beaming from Paris to the Space Station. He will be koala-napped in the brazen escape plan and held hostage by the 4 deadly pals.

What follows is a cat-&-mouse reptile & zookeeper chase across the Blue Mountains to Uluru, encountering other animals and near-misses, whilst working together as a team.

Producers have assembled some hilarious voice guests including Keith Urban and Gia Carides as cane toads, Jack Charles as a frill-necked lizard, Wayne Knight as a Platypus, Aaron Pedersen as a dung beetle and one big-name star in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo.

The Irwin influence is strong, especially in Eric Bana’s blokey croc host, but you’ll spy some Mad Max references too and the snappy “yeah, nah” script by Cripps keeps it authentic.

The soundtrack also includes Dolly Parton, The Angels, Phil Collins, Billie Eilish, and The KLF with Tammy Wynette -what’s not to love?

Deserves to be a global success and help restore some context to the idea that everything in Australia is out to kill you.

Back to the Outback screens Friday on Netflix.

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