It isn’t easy being blue … or fanged … or incredibly toxic.
To be honest, Maddie the Taipan snake didn’t think her life was all that bad until recently. She had been found, after hatching, by a nice human named Chaz. He put her in a warm, sandy tank and fed her daily. She even made friends with other creatures in nearby tanks.
There’s a funnel-web spider named Frank in the tank next to hers for instance. And a funny little scorpion named Nigel is next to that. Then there’s Zoe, a horned lizard. They’re all very nice and sweet, with their own quirks and passions. Frank, for instance, wants to be an interpretive dancer someday.
But Maddie’s perspective changed because she realized that she and her friends all live in what the humans call “a zoo.” When she finally grew old enough to be put on display, she realized just how much the humans in that zoo hate her. They gasp and draw back when they hear that just one drop of her venom can kill 100 people in 10 seconds. They call her a monster, horrible and disgusting.
And here she thought she was smiling nicely.
The fact is, the humans walking through the zoo don’t seem to like many of the animals there. Except for Pretty Boy, that is. That young, innocent and sweet-looking koala bear is pampered and cuddled like a crown prince. Humans adore him. But if you don’t have wind-blown, silky-soft fur or those big, beautiful, blue eyes, well, you’re a “monster.”
Maddie really dislikes that. It’s not fair. If only there were a place where snakes and spiders and poisonous creatures could be loved. A place where they all could be welcome and not hated.
That’s when Jackie the crocodile assures Maddie and her venemous friends that there is indeed such a place. It’s a land for the fanged and the poison-stingered: an area where families of creatures just like them live and thrive. This far-away place is called … the Outback.
That exotic wonderland sounds magical! Now, Maddie and the gang just have to find a way to get there.
Back to the Outback makes it abundantly clear that we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. The cutest and most heroic looking characters here aren’t very nice when examined closely. Poisonous snakes and scorpions, however, can be sweet and kind. In fact, these poisonous friends meet others along their journey who, on the face of things, appear even more scary and threatening than they do. But they quickly learn that even sharks and redback spiders can be kind.
This pic also praises and highly values family. The deadly but sweet heroes of this tale long to get back to a place they think of as home, and a gathering they can call a family. “What is a family?” Zoe, the horned lizard wonders. “None of us have ever had one before.” Maddie replies that, “Maybe it just means being with people who love you no matter what.” And another critter in the tightknit group opines: “Oh. That sounds like us.”
And in the course of the adventure, this group discovers that family can indeed be made of something other than a group of relatives. They realize that they love each other and long to protect each other like a family would. “That’s what families do, they help each other out,” someone notes. And in turn, this group’s collective caring and concern have a positive impact on others in and around their family group.
The positive family vibe spills over into the human world too, where Chaz and his son, Chazzie, eventually makes amends after a conflict creates a rift between them.
Pretty Boy accidentally ends up escaping the zoo with Maddie and her friends, but he’s not very pleasant about it. The group thus labels him “Satan’s Teddy Bear.”
Later, the group stares up at the wonder of the night sky and talk of feeling small and insignificant in the expanse of the heavens. The same sight makes the self-aggrandizing Pretty Boy wonder if he is a “god,” since he sees his own image reflected in the patterns of the stars.
Later still, Pretty Boy murmurs while dreaming about “meeting the Pope.”
There are numerous quips tossed around about the fact that Frank is in his mating season with no other funnel-web spiders nearby. He even picks up a stick as a cuddle buddy.
The group of searching friends are also helped out by some redback spiders who are declared to be ten times as poisonous as Frank himself. Upon hearing this, Frank moans out, “I’ve never been so aroused in my life.” And when he finally encounters his own kind, a female spider snorts, “Sorry mate, mating season ended yesterday.”
We also meet a pair of slimy, amourous cane toads who, upon being released from their separate cages, embrace and begin kissing with entwined tongues. The other critters blanch a bit at their toady passion. But later, the couple shows up with a huge group of baby toads swarming around them. “Since Tuesday?” Nigel gasps.
Chaz tumbles around rocky cliffs and loses his pants in the course of things. We see him in slightly shredded boxer shorts that reveal bits of his backside.
We’re told regularly about how incredibly deadly each of the central protagonists and some of the other animals and insects around them are. But other than a scorpion sting that knocks out the generally unpleasant Pretty Boy, we don’t see any of those “deadly” actions on display. In some cases, the creatures try to help humans, but their actions are interpreted as being hostile by nature of what they are. For instance, a crocodile moves to aid a small boy who’s fallen into deep water, and humans believe she’s attacking.
That said, an amorous Frank asks what a particular redback spider is doing later in the evening, and she replies, “Eating my husband.”
In the course of the tale, Chaz and Chazzie give chase after the escaped critters, which leads to various speeding vehicles crashing into things and creating perilous situations. One of those leaves a young boy dangling out over a cliffside, for instance. Chaz kicks and punches some animals. He also shoots a bazooka at his critter targets, causing massive amounts of destruction.
We also see human children involved in several forms of destructive mischief, including one kid who’s trying to fry ants with a magnifying glass in the sun. Pretty Boy gets thumped and tumbled about repeatedly. The critter heroes fall into a cave full of vampire bats. A crowd of humans surround a group of small critters in an attempt to smash them with heavy objects.
We hear one use each of “dang it,” “aw, nuts,” “rats” and the Australian expression of surprise, “crikey!” The are two exclamations of “oh, my gosh.”
Nigel the scorpion stings Pretty Boy twice, rendering him unconscious. And Chaz shoots several people and animals with knock-out darts to the same effect.
Two small spiders imitate onions floating in a woman’s cocktail.
We find out that the adventuring zookeeper, Chaz, isn’t really as heroic as he’s been telling the world. His lies are all revealed in the end, though. One of them being that Chazzie’s mother wasn’t swallowed by a giant python, as he told his son. “She ran off with a landscape architect named Bret.”
There are a number of toilet-humor giggles in the mix (many of them Australian-themed). They include comments about colonics; wiping backsides; taking “a whiz;” riding a toilet flush; dung beetles and their passions; and someone being hit in his “bloomin’ onions.”
We hear a part of the Billie Eilish song “Bad Guy.” And though the short clip from the song’s chorus isn’t offensive, it could lead young listeners to the artist’s darker lyrics. Another tune in the soundtrack talks of “tanned and airbrushed booties.”
Pretty is relative. And family can be more than just relatives.
Those are the easy-to-parse-out lessons in this enjoyable animated Netflix entry. And, in our often-shallow and self-focused TicTok world, they’re pretty solid takeaways for kids and adults alike.
Sure, there’s some potty humor and animal mating season winks in Back to the Outback that could have been whittled down a bit (or left Down Under altogether). But in toto, this animated family adventure is about as rambunctiously lovable as a pic focused on venomous Australian snakes and spiders can be.
Pretty is relative. But family? Family is forever.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.