Back to the Outback is not entirely awful. There is much here that very young children will find enjoyable. The question is, should responsible adults leave them alone to watch it?
Among the more disturbing scenarios in Back to the Outback, we meet a sexually frustrated funnel-web spider who, upon meeting a sexualised redback, declares that he ‘has never been more aroused in his life.’ The same funnel-web will later mistake a spider-shaped school bag for an actual spider. When the bag is cut open with a knife, its contents falling out, this can only be interpreted by the sexually frustrated funnel-web as the disembowelling of his one true love. It might help to stop and remind ourselves at this point that this is a kids’ movie, not a Freudian nightmare. Continuing the weird and grotesque visions are a pair of French-kissing cane toads. It has to be seen to be appreciated.
Back to the Outback is the story of four dangerous animals who escape the confines of the wildlife theme park where they are imprisoned so that they can find their families and return to their homes. There is a taipan snake (sexualised for reasons known only to the quite possibly disturbed animators), a scorpion, a thorny tailed lizard, and the previously mentioned funnel-web spider. In the course of their journey, the animals encounter other dangerous and ugly animals who have been rejected by society. Meanwhile, the film’s villains, the wildlife park’s ranger and his overweight son follow fast on the animals’ trail.
The message of accepting those who are different is an admirable one. However, I don’t think it is wise for a children’s movie to portray venomous creatures as cute and cuddly.
Back to the Outback is a movie aimed at an international audience more than a local one. You can tell this by the appeals made to ignorance and stereotyping. A koala is referred to as a bear, and there is plenty of clichéd Ocker speech and references to Vegemite and budgie smugglers. And Sydney Harbour stands as a visual cliché that lets American audiences know that, yes, this is Australia. Have we made that clear enough for you?
There is an array of talent at work here. The voices of Isla Fisher, Eric Bana, Tim Minchin, and Celeste Barber, among others, must be commended. However, you should probably think of Back to the Outback as you would a taipan snake. Avoid.
Isla Fisher’s fourth theatrically released animated film after Horton Hears a Who! (2008), Rango (2011), and Rise of the Guardians (2012).