Born to Be Wild has been dismissed more than once as a knockoff of Free Willy. Except for the teaming of a troubled kid and a large mammal in pursuit of the latter's freedom, that comparison is off the mark. Part screwball comedy and part animal-rights drama, the film stars Wil Horneff as Rick, a young, incorrigible teen whose mother (Helen Shaver), a primate researcher, enlists him to help care for a gorilla named Katie. Much to his surprise, Rick bonds with Katie, a lonely simian who yearns for the Africa of her youth and whose expressive range includes a fair amount of sign language. When Katie's coldhearted owner (Peter Boyle) decides to take her back and put her on display at a department store, Rick steals her away and stuffs her in a stolen van--which he then proceeds to drive to Canada hoping his girlfriend's uncle (John C. McGinley), a conspiracy nut, can lead this 800-pound gorilla to freedom. Rick's quixotic mission is not without funny mishaps and even some character-building challenges to the hero's conviction. (A rambunctious, often impolite girl like Katie is not the easiest travel companion.) But the film's final arrival turns out to be much more than one might have expected: a moving testament to the joy and pain of accepting one's destiny. --Tom Keogh
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