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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Back to the Outback’ on Netflix, a Talking-Animal Cartoon Rife With All the Usual Comedy and Adventure

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Back to the Outback’ on Netflix, a Talking-Animal Cartoon Rife With All the Usual Comedy and Adventure

This week in Talking Animals What Never Shut Their Damn Yaps is Netflix’s Back to the Outback, an animated comedy in which a multitude of celebrities provide voices for snakes, spiders and other dangerous Australian animals who are sick and tired of getting a bad rap just because their venom and/or mouth daggers can murder the snot out of you. Isla Fisher, Guy Pearce, Eric Bana, Tim Minchin, Kylie Minogue, Keith Urban, Jacki Weaver and a pile of others remind egocentric Americans that they’re Australian with their island-continent brogues as their colorful characters start in the zoo and [INSERT MOVIE TITLE HERE], flinging one-liners and syrupy sentiments with equal willy-nilliness. Will we care? Or is this just another generic Netflix cartoon?

The Gist: An Australian wildlife park outside Sydney has a helluva tagline: “Home to the cutest animals in the world” is its boast. It’s a highly Instagrammable place and, perhaps apropos of nothing, that rhymes with “flammable.” OK, t’s not literally so, but symbolically, because the park is run by Chaz (Bana), who likes to manhandle his totes adorbs terrifying creatures as throngs of onlookers gasp and faint. Maddie (Fisher) is a taipan snake whose venom, Chaz blusters, can kill 100 people in 10 seconds, which would be quite a feat, since it would require biting and envenomating 10 people per second. Do the math, Chaz! Anyway, Maddie’s a very sensitive and sweet snake, just like her best pals, an anxious scorpion named Nigel (Angus Imrie), an escape-artist thorny devil lizard named Zoe (Miranda Tapsell), a somewhat horny funnel-web spider named Frank (Pearce) and a big croc named Jackie (Weaver), who’s the matriarch of this motley crew of unhuggables, who just wanna be hugged.

None of the animals is particularly pleased with this situation, which frequently requires that annoying wannabe Dundee/Croc Hunter dope thrusting their fangs and spines in the faces of screaming children, something you’d think would inspire issues with the insurance company. That’s not all – adding further insult is the existence of Pretty Boy (Minchin), an internationally famous, koala who’s so lusciously ambrosial, kids line up for his photo, he has a Nobel Peace Prize on his shelf and Freud would put his ego in a display case. It sure would be totally nutbutters if Maddie and co. ended up stuck with Pretty Boy as they journey through bustling urban centers and across blazing deserts, running into a rogue’s gallery of other ugly-on-the-outside/squishy-on-the-inside animals – bats, sharks, Tasmanian devils, dung beetles – as they try to get [INSERT MOVIE TITLE HERE], with that douche Chaz on their tails, wouldn’t it? Theoretically.

BACK TO THE OUTBACK
Photo: NETFLIX

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Weirdo animals escaping the zoo to get back to their roots is a premise lifted wholesale from Madagascar. Maybe the filmmakers will come up with something more original if they dare to make Back to the Outback 2: The Dung Beetles’ Revenge.

Performance Worth Watching: I’m sure Minchin thoroughly relished the opportunity for a throwaway one-liner meta-joke about getting to meet the Pope.

Memorable Dialogue: Disregarding the multiple incidences of the movie title being word-for-word quoted in the dialogue, I’ll settle for Chaz’s hardcore-survivalist commitment to finding his escaped animals: “We’ll face danger, we’ll face death, we’ll drink each other’s urine!”

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Thankfully, our survival of this movie isn’t contingent upon consuming our own gross bodily excretions, although we will have to endure a tarantula-puke scene. Back to the Outback is mostly generally perfectly acceptable formulaic family-movie fodder. It’s colorful and looks nice, but so do a bevy of Dreamworks, Netflix and Sony animation efforts that will go unnamed here because they failed to distinguish themselves and we therefore forgot they existed.

Very few of those movies are particularly offensive, but they tend to cover the same territory: zingy dialogue, dollops of sentiment, needle drops, pop-culture references, celeb cameos, poop and vomit jokes and a fast-paced, action-packed, cliff-dangling finale that’s too loud by half. This particular film covers thematic fodder about the importance of making one’s own family, the desire to find one’s roots and the idea that one’s beauty comes from within, all stuff that one should find depressingly familiar if one has seen more than one movie in one’s life.

Outback does some things right, maybe in its HIGHLY CONTROVERSIAL anti-zoo subtext, and more likely in its noticeably shifting points-of-view: The reptile and bug protagonists see themselves as wide-eyed, emotionally delicate and complex creatures, although when directors Clare Knight and Harry Cripps shift to human perspectives, they’re hissing, threatening monsters. Of course, the underlying idea is, they’re as scared of us as we are of them, so can’t we all just get along, and maybe invite sharks over for tea and constructive dialogue instead of vilifying them all the time? You know, what’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding? That’s a perfectly fine message, but the bigger question is, can’t the movie get it across without a vain koala trying in vain to make us laugh, and recurring Phil Collins references?

Our Call: I’m being a tad too harsh. Back to the Outback is an adequate time-waster for young audiences, even if it’s not particularly original or funny. Parents won’t quite need to shoot themselves with a tranq dart to survive it, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. STREAM IT, just don’t expect much.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.

Stream Back to the Outback on Netflix

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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