Directed by Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen

Written by Domonic Paris

90 minutes, rated PG

The best animation studios make everything look easy, partly because they spend the money to fix the problems that can happen when people are in a hurry. Robinson Crusoe: The Wild Life is a handbook of mistakes – although I can’t say whether the problem was lack of budget, time, or simply judgement.

The problem is not the quality of animation, which is pretty good. It’s a Franco-Belgian co-production and co-director Ben Stassen is an expert in 3D. The colour scheme is brilliantly bright, as befits a story set on a south seas island with a colourful red and green macaw named Mak as a main character. The overall design is lush, somewhere between classic Disney stylisation of 30 years ago, and the pin-sharp detail we now expect from 3D features. If you watched the film with sound off, it might seem a pleasantly high-spirited tale for younger children with lots of cute animal characters and some exciting action.

That would not be quite true either, but the bigger problems start with voice casting and direction. No-one sounds real here, from the shipwrecked human Robinson Crusoe (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal, an American voice artist doing a British accent), to Rosie the fat tapir (Laila Berzins, doing a sassy black lady accent), to Joey Camen’s rickety voice for an old goat called Scrubby.

Many of the voice cast are highly experienced, so what went wrong? Direction went wrong, of course. Actors can’t direct themselves and this sounds like the directors have assembled every vocal cliché they can remember from cartoons in their childhoods. The pirates who threaten Crusoe and his new animal friends sound like har-har pirates; the two ship’s cats, the principal villains, sound like an unhappily married English couple from different classes. May, the evil mastermind is posh and mean (Debi Tinsley); her partner Mel (Jeff Doucette) sounds like an American actor doing a bad Cockney accent. There’s no shading to these characters, so nothing for the voice actors to play. It’s all surface.

Even if the voice work had been top shelf, there would still be the problem of script. There is less a story here than a series of incidents, most of which lead to a chase, with slapstick mishaps and lucky escapes. Those are like the first coat of paint on a story, rather than the finished item.

The big rules for animation are the same as for any other film: if you haven’t worked hard enough on character, no-one will care whether the cat catches the bird.  And who thought it a good idea to kill off the dog half way through? Did they just get sick of animating Aynsley (Doug Stone), Crusoe’s faithful friend? I can just hear the little kids on the way home in the car – what happened to the dog, mummy?  Tell them he got a better offer at Pixar.