Rating: 3 out of 5.

Netflix plus animation is turning out to be quite the colorful combination. Against all odds, Back to the Outback is another addition to the charming ouvre of Netflix originals, a cute-as-a-button flick that lovingly wears its heart on its sleeve. A kooky cast of characters trying to escape and essentially go back to nature is a general concept that owes a lot to 2005 Dreamworks feature, Madagascar. Without the groundwork laid by that prior film, Back to the Outback would simply not exist. Toss in a Rescue Aide Society-esque group called the U.S.S. (Ugly Secret Society), and one will have a grasp on the overall tone. The Australian flavor and stellar voice acting combine in a way that sets this apart from similar animated animals-on-the-run flicks.

Welcome to the Australian Wildlife Park, home to the cutest animals in the world! Only here can you find adorable creatures like Pretty Boy (Tim Minchin) the koala; conversely, the “ugly” monster subset of animals is here too, if only to highlight the drastic differences from the cute ones. Maddie (Isla Fisher) the highly venomous taipan snake does not want to be feared. Along with her pals Nigel (Angus Imrie) the quirky scorpion, Thorny Devil lizard Zoe (Miranda Tapsell), and dance-a-holic hairy spider Frank (Guy Pearce), Maddie lives a monotonous existence at the park each day before being tossed back into the cage. When one of their own, Jackie the croc, is booted from the reserve for fear of being harmful, Maddie concocts a grand plan for their escape.

From here, Back to the Outback becomes a fun series of misadventures. The group is forced to take Pretty Boy the koala with them, whereafter he is branded by authorities as a rabid koala menace! At first snooty and self-centered, Pretty Boy warms up to the group and eventually displays genuine affection for them. Their travels take them through the city and to the mysterious blue mountains. Can they make it to the outback in one piece? Our heroes are endlessly pursued by zookeeper Chaz (Eric Bana) and his son—as far as villains go, this duo is as non-threatening and generic as they come. This was probably the biggest disappointment of the movie for me. A stronger villain would push this from a good movie to a great one.

Back to the Outback has a surprising amount of heart, and a cute simplistic 2000s throwback quality. Unexpected animal team-ups and a wildly entertaining final act try their hardest to thrill and surprise the viewer. Younger kids in particular will love this journey across Australia, while parents should take comfort in the knowledge that it is teaching some vital life lessons.

Back to the Outback reminds us that “ugly is the new beautiful,” when it debuts Friday, December 10th on Netflix.

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