The Wild Thornberrys

From Academic Kids

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The Wild Thornberrys cast, left to right, Nigel, Marianne (with camera), Eliza (with glasses) and Darwin (the monkey) on a vine, Donnie (hanging down from the tree), and Debbie (sitting down)

The Wild Thornberrys is an animated series produced at Klasky-Csupo for Nickelodeon, which follows the adventures of a fictional wildlife-documentary-making family, the Thornberrys, and particularly of Eliza Thornberry, who can talk to animals. It premiered in October 1998, and was the first Nicktoon to exclusively use 30 minute stories (previously, other Nicktoons mostly used the two-fifteen-minute-stories format). At the time, the series was quite dark in tone for a Nicktoon (with life-threatening situations in several stories).

Nigel and Marianne Thornberry (voiced by Tim Curry and Jodi Carlisle) travel around the world with their family making wildlife documentaries, with Nigel as narrator and Marianne as the camerawoman. They have three children:

  • their older daughter Deborah, or Debbie (Danielle Harris), a typical teenager who longs for a normal suburban life;
  • their younger daughter Elizabeth, or Eliza (Lacey Chabert), a girl who (unbeknownst to her family) gained the ability to speak with animals after an encounter with an African shaman (as shown the episode Gift of Gab, also dealing with why it's such a secret; this fact would be played on in the first film);
  • their stepson Donnie (Flea), a feral boy who (as would be made known in their 2001 telefilm, Origin of Donnie) was raised by orangutans before the Thornberrys adopted him, and he talks very wildly and incoherently.

Also travelling along is Darwin (Tom Kane), a chimpanzee that travels with the family, who "belongs" to Eliza. He has a craving for cheese crunchies, especially newly discovered "Swiss" cheese crunchies. He was found by Eliza, and was the first animal she ever talked to. Tyler Tucker (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), Eliza's cousin, also travelled with them in five episodes.

Despite being nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in 2001, the show has its share of detractors, mostly those bothered by main character Eliza's look (pigtails, glasses, freckles, and braces on her big teeth), and her attitude: basically, go out of her way to talk to animals, no matter what.

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The Wild Thornberrys promo shot

Feature films with characters from the series

Besides the aforementioned telefilm, in 2002 and 2003, Nickelodeon released two cinema films featuring the family: The Wild Thornberrys Movie (subsequently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for "Father and Daughter" by Paul Simon) and Rugrats Go Wild! (a crossover with the Rugrats), both of which earned around a modest (at best) $40m at the US box office.

Trivia

  • Wildlife conservationist Jane Goodall appeared as herself in the episode titled The Trouble With Darwin.
  • In early February 2003, Nickelodeon devoted a week to the five episodes that take place after the movie (the last episodes produced), which have the Thornberrys in Alaska with a pop guitarist staying over with them (Shane G, voiced by Christopher Masterson). After the fourth of the five episodes aired, Nick then aired a promo for the fifth episode Eliza Unplugged to air on Saturday, February 8. However, they ended up airing The Fairly OddParents instead; that episode wouldn't air for another 16 months (June 11, 2004).

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