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In appreciation and recognition of Seattle's long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with Scarecrow Video to bring you weekly reviews of historical Seattle films. Each week we will showcase a new movie, with special emphasis on how these films show Seattle's most filmable locations.

Born to Be Wild (1995)

What we have here is your standard "boy meets ape" story closely patterned on Free Willy (1993), except this time around it's not a whale, it's a gorilla. While hanging out at his mother's college laboratory, a trouble-making teen named Rick (Wil Horneff) becomes acquainted with a smart and friendly female ape named Katie (Leif Tilden in an unconvincing gorilla suit) who knows sign language. The two become fast friends but their relationship is threatened by the owner of a local flea market (Peter Boyle, earning a fast paycheck) who wants to reclaim Katie and keep her in a cage at the store. Before you can say "B & I Circus Amusements," Rick and Katie are on the lam and the interspecies fugitives try to avoid the law and get Katie back to her childhood home in the jungle.

Of all the movies we've discussed so far in this column, Born to Be Wild has perhaps the most perplexing use of Seattle locations. The movie was mostly shot in Washington State and its plot is partly based on Ivan the Gorilla, a local silverback celebrity gorilla who lived a fairly sad life in a flea market in Lakewood until he was eventually moved to the Woodland Park Zoo. The Seattle skyline is prominently featured on the movie's poster and the artwork for its subsequent DVD release. But weirdly enough, the movie does not take place in Seattle. Judging from the artwork I expected Rick and Katie to end up here in the city, but it never happens. Born to Be Wild is actually set in Oakland, California.

The filmmakers do a good job concealing the actual shooting locations and are careful to avoid any stereotypical Seattle images. The most recognizable city footage occurs early in the film during a car chase under the Spokane Street Viaduct. The neon "City Light" sign over the Seattle City Light South Service Center is prominently seen in the background while Rick is pursued by several police cruisers. Another location that I instantly recognized was the Alpen Village Drive-In near Sultan, though it's renamed "Ernomoburgers" for the film. Other than that, there isn't a whole lot of "obvious" Pacific Northwest material, though some may recognize a few local media personalities from the mid-nineties like Monica Hart (KIRO), Drake Collier (KIRO) and David Wingert (KIXI), who show up in bit parts.

I still don't understand why the Seattle skyline and the Space Needle are so prominently featured in the film's promotional art. Perhaps it was the result of a major communication breakdown between the film's producers and the studio's marketing department...we may never know. Born to Be Wild may be the first and only time a film crew traveled from California to Washington to make a movie set in California. I wish it would happen more often.

-Spenser Hoyt

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