September 1, 1998 (1998-09-01) – June 11, 2004 (2004-06-11)
The Wild Thornberrys is an American animated television series created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, Steve Pepoon, David Silverman, and Stephen Sustarsic for Nickelodeon. The series portrays an American family of wildlife documentary filmmakers known as the Thornberrys, which consist of the British nature documentary television host Nigel, his wife and camera operator Marianne, their 16-year-old daughter Debbie, their younger daughter Eliza, their adopted son Donnie, and a chimpanzee named Darwin. The series focuses in particular on Eliza, who has a magical ability to communicate with animals. The Thornberry family travels to every continent and wildlife environment in the ComVee, a recreational vehicle equipped with safety mechanisms to handle any terrain or body of water, to document their journeys in detail, with typical episodes involving Eliza befriending an animal and subsequently finding herself in peril.
Originally pitched by Klasky Csupo as an adult animated sitcom for Fox, the series was then retooled as a family-friendly animated series for Nickelodeon and premiered on September 1, 1998, as the eleventh Nicktoon and the third overall produced by the studio following Rugrats and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. It ran for 5 seasons containing 91 episodes in total, with the series finale airing on June 11, 2004.
The series' fourth season premiere, "The Origin of Donnie", is a television special focusing on Donnie Thornberry's life before he was adopted by the family. A feature film, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, in which Eliza embarks on a quest to save a cheetah cub from poachers, was theatrically released on December 20, 2002. Rugrats Go Wild, a crossover feature film with Nickelodeon's Rugrats, was released in theaters on June 13, 2003. Spin-off media include DVD releases and three video games.
"This is me Eliza Thornberry, part of your average family. I got a dad, a mom and a sister. There is Donnie; we found him and Darwin, he found us. Oh yeah, about our house. It moves, 'cause we travel all over the world. You see, my dad hosts this nature show, and my mom shoots it. Okay, so we're not that average. And between you and me, something amazing happened... and now I can talk to animals. It's really cool, but totally secret. And you know what? Life's never been the same."
- Eliza Thornberry's opening narration.
The series focuses around a nomadic family of documentary filmmakers known as the Thornberrys, famous for their televised wildlife studies, as they travel the world in the "Comvee", a large, amphibious, multifunctional overlandmotorhome which doubles as their base of operations. It primarily centers on the family's younger daughter Eliza, and her secret gift of being able to communicate with animals, which was bestowed upon her after having rescued a shaman masquerading as a trapped warthog.
The gift enables her to talk to the Thornberrys' pet chimpanzee Darwin. Together, the pair frequently venture through the wilderness, befriending many species of wild animals along the way, and discern moral truths and lessons through either their experiences or a particular animal species's lifestyle; often this means simply assisting the creatures by which they become acquainted in their difficulties.
Elizabeth "Eliza" Thornberry (voiced by Lacey Chabert) is an 11-year-old girl and the youngest daughter of the Thornberrys. She has long red-orange hair that is usually worn in pigtails, and occasionally a ponytail, round eyeglasses, four big teeth connected by two braces, and freckles. She is able to communicate with animals, especially her chimpanzee sidekick Darwin. She must keep this gift secret or she will lose her powers (as revealed in the episode "Gift of Gab"). This happens during the film when Eliza reluctantly tells two poachers her secret in order to save Debbie. Luckily, after saving a herd of elephants from the same poachers later in the film, she is given her powers back. Despite her good intentions, she sometimes interferes with nature which causes more problems.
Sir Nigel Archibald Thornberry KBE (voiced by Tim Curry) is Eliza, Debbie, and Donnie's father and Marianne's husband. He is also the son of Radcliffe (also voiced by Curry) and Cordelia Thornberry (Lynn Redgrave), an aristocratic British couple. Born in the U.K. and having attended Harrow School near London, he travels around the world with his own family making wildlife documentaries. He is eccentric, enthusiastic, and cheerful even in the face of danger, and is also known for his exaggerated facial features and love of kippers which he offers frequently.
Donald "Donnie" Thornberry (voiced by Flea) is a feral boy adopted by the Thornberrys, who speaks mostly in gibberish and (as revealed in the 4-part TV film, "The Wild Thornberrys: The Origin of Donnie") was raised by an orangutan in Borneo after his parents, Michael and Lisa, who were old friends of the Thornberrys, were killed by poachers. Donnie's age is 4, turning 5 in "The Origin of Donnie".
Deborah "Debbie" Thornberry (voiced by Danielle Harris) is a popular teenage girl, 16-years-old, and Eliza's sister. After the events of the movie, she becomes the only family member to know about Eliza's power but is warned that she will be turned into a baboon if she ever tells anyone. Debbie dresses in 1990s clothing and has a long swept hairstyle. Unlike Eliza, Debbie doesn't like traveling and wants nothing more than to live in civilization and make friends with people her own age.
Darwin (voiced by Tom Kane) is the Thornberrys' pet chimpanzee and Eliza's best friend. He usually wears a tank top with horizontal blue and white stripes (used to be Debbie's lucky tank top) and blue shorts. He speaks with a distinct, upper-class British accent. Although he isn't too fond of Debbie, the two do share the same preference to living in civilization over the wilderness. He also acts as the voice of reason for Eliza whenever she tried to interfere in nature.
Kane also voices others.
Kip O'Donnell (voiced by Keith Szarabajka) is a poacher and The Thornberrys’ sworn enemy who poaches and kidnaps animals from above it, with his partner Neil Biederman (voiced by Michael Jeter & replaced by Jerry Sroka). Whenever they aren't poaching animals, they are conducting schemes to make easy money. They would eventually be apprehended by the authorities after causing an oil spill while attempting to steal oil from an oil tanker in the episode "You Otter Know".
Tyler Tucker (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is Eliza and Debbie's cousin. He is Marianne and Nigel's nephew through Marianne's sister Nancy Tucker née Hunter. He is a year older than Eliza but acts more immaturely than Eliza does. He doesn't really understand the dangers of living in the wild. He's a know-it-all but generally has a good head on his shoulders, and he cares about his cousins Debbie, Eliza, and Donnie. His parents are Dennis (voiced by Martin Mull) and Nancy Tucker (voiced by Mary Kay Place).
Shane G. (voiced by Christopher Masterson) is a pop superstar who travels with the Thornberry Family for five episodes while they are filming in Alaska. The Foundation orders Nigel and Marianne to take him with the family to promote Wildlife preservation among young people and Shane's fans. Both Eliza and Debbie gain a crush on the him, however Debbie loses interest when Shane shows to have more similarities with Eliza than herself.
Santusa (voiced by Tia Texada) is a supremely annoying llama whom Eliza befriended in the Andes.
Bim (voiced by Greg Ellis) is a Koala who has a British accent and befriended by Eliza, Darwin, & Donnie.
Lugan (voiced by Maureen Quinn), who was in the TV special.
Saiful (voiced by Pamela Adlon), which was in the TV special. and Adlon voiced Tano, a Cheetah Cub who Eliza tries to help find and who she, Darwin and Donnie help try to find his mother in the episode, "Cheetahs Never Prosper".
Ron Fassler, Anne Lambton, & Jimmie Wood are Tak a little rat, Sheeba the eye patch wearing cat, & Bone, the three legged dog who helped Eliza find the Bangaboo in The Great Bangaboo.
Marion Ross as Rebecca, an elephant whom Eliza saved in Forget Me Not. She was originally saved by Nigel from poachers many years ago. At the end of the episode, the elephant dies of natural causes which makes Eliza cry after she passes away and her daughter Zita takes over the herd.
The Wild Thornberrys was produced by Klasky Csupo. It was initially pitched as an adult animated sitcom under the name, Nigel Thornberry's Animal World, and was to be co-produced by Fox Animation for Fox, but it was ultimately rejected. It was then picked up by Nickelodeon under its own animation studio and was retooled as a family-oriented series with Nigel's youngest daughter Eliza (originally named Alex) being promoted to the main protagonist role. According to Eryk Casemiro, SVP of Creative Affairs at Klasky-Csupo Productions at the time of the series production, she was originally designed to look "quite frankly, very ugly" in order to contradict the stereotype that all young heroines are beautiful. However, her design was later retooled to look "cuter" at the request of Nickelodeon. It premiered on September 1, 1998, and was the first Nicktoon to exclusively use 22-minute stories (episodes of other Nicktoons usually featured two 10 – 11-minute stories, using 22-minute stories only on occasion).
The series was designed to have a focus on parents, after focus groups run by Klasky and Csupo uncovered that children were talking about the real struggles of the parent-child relationship; this was opposed to Nickelodeon's view of only featuring kids in children's programming. It was also designed with the potential of being used in science curriculums. To accomplish this, the production crew hired a specialist who did research on different regions of the world, different cultures, and different species of animals, all of which were provided to the writers to help them develop ideas for episodes.
Paramount Home Entertainment (through its Nickelodeon home entertainment banner) released all five seasons on DVD in Region 1 via Amazon.com through its CreateSpace Manufacture-on-demand program in 2010. Season 1 was released on June 24, 2010, and Seasons 2 through 5 were released on December 1, 2010.
On February 16, 2011, Shout! Factory announced that it had acquired the rights to release the series on home media and would be releasing Season 1 on DVD on May 17, 2011.Season 1 was released on May 17, 2011, followed by Season 2, Part 1 on November 8, 2011.Season 2, Part 2 was released on April 24, 2012.Season 2, Part 3 was released on January 15, 2013, as a Shout Select title.Season 3 was released on June 11, 2013, as a Shout Select title.Season 4 and Season 5 were released in a box set on September 10, 2013, as a Shout Select title.
Common Sense Media gave the series a rating of 5 stars, praising it for its ability to encourage young viewers to be empathetic toward animals, to want to find out about other cultures and ways of life, and to understand the vastness and diversity of the world. Knight Ridder called the series "sympathetic".The Native Voice complimented the series on its commitment to fun, adventure, detail, accuracy, and honesty.