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Kids' Wilderness Epic

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A genre common in The '90s, although it originated many years prior to that. You know the type: A group of modern-day kids end up somewhere in the remote wilderness and have a thrilling Coming of Age Story out there. Common plot elements include:

  • The kids are siblings, most likely a BrotherÔÇôSister Team, with their ages ranging from about ten to fifteen or so. They have difficulty adapting to life in the wilderness and make pop culture references here and there. The girl tends to be the eldest.
  • The villains (if there are any) will likely be Evil Poachers. They come in two varieties: menacing killers and Home Alone-esque idiots (it was the 1990s, after all).
  • If the kids' parents show up, expect at least one of them to be a scientist studying the area.
  • One or both of the parents are lost out in the wilderness. Obviously, they need to be rescued by inexperienced children.
  • The difficulties of wilderness survival are Played for Drama once or twice, with a Hard-to-Light Fire or an anxious search for berries, then downplayed thereafter.
  • The kids experience a series of death-defying (and typically improbable) stunts. Bonding ensues.
  • The kids discover a cute animal and befriend it since All Animals Are Domesticated. The poachers want to kill it.
  • The kids befriend a local native, who is Always Male. He shows them his ways, helps them survive and tells them about how the poachers are ruining the environment. The kids learn that Other Cultures Are Cool Too.
  • If it's animated, the creatures hunted by the poachers will be Talking Animals, making the poachers even more unsympathetic.
  • If the children are stranded in the remote wilderness or on an abandoned island, it can also be an example of a Robinsonade.

Expect the film to contain several wide shots of the wilderness (which was probably filmed at least partially in British Columbia) accompanied by "epic-sounding" music. The tagline will contain phrases such as "magical adventure" and "unforgettable journey".

True examples: Films which very clearly fit into this genre:

  • Alaska (1996): Complete with Braids, Beads and Buckskins-wearing, Magical Native American mentor.
  • The Amazing Panda Adventure (1995) is your standard-issue one of these. That is, aside from a bizarre scene in which the young boy and girl (thankfully not siblings in this case) decide to get naked... well, not so much "decide" as "panic and strip while trying to get rid of the leeches", but still rather unexpected.
  • Cheetah (1989)
  • The Coral Island is both a book, and much earlier than any of these (1857), but fits the basic description. Lord of the Flies was intended as a Deconstruction of this.
  • Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog (1995): It's about a boy and his dog, and there's no human villains, but otherwise, yeah.
  • A Far Off Place (1993) - the other movie where Reese Witherspoon goes for a walk in the wilderness.
  • Flight 29 Down
  • The Rescuers Down Under (1990) although it should be mentioned that unlike many other examples, the boy protagonist of this movie actually lives in the Australian outback and therefore knows his way around in the wilderness.
  • While we're on the subject of cartoons... The Rugrats Movie! The main cast gets lost in the woods and try to get home. And they're BABIES!
  • Survival Kids is a video game version of the genre, starring a kid stranded on a desert island trying to survive and seek rescue, and makes a cute monkey friend along the way.

Partial examples: Films which contain some elements of this genre, but may not necessarily be part of it:

  • Across The Great Divide (1976). In 1876, two orphans, Holly and Jason, travel across the Rocky Mountains to claim their inheritance at the end of the Oregon Trail. Not a pure example as they have the aid of an adult (a gambler on the run) for much of the film.
  • The Adventures of the Wilderness Family (1975) has a Los Angeles family move to the Canadian wilderness (though the film was shot in Colorado) to live a better life off the grid — building their own cabin, befriending a mountain man, and dealing with both friendly and dangerous wild animals along the way. One of the more successful independent films of the 1970s, it yielded two sequels by decade's end and even warranted a parody by Troma, 1985's When Nature Calls.
  • Astro Kid: Combines many elements of this genre with Robinsonade in space. Protagonist Willy is a ten-year-old boy, whose parents are space explorers. Their ship is wrecked by asteroids, and Willy ends up in an Escape Pod that crashes on an unknown planet. While waiting for rescue, he learns to survive (first aided by a surival robot named Buck), befriends a local animal he names Flash and who becomes his loyal companion, and survives several encounters with vicious wildlife. There are no villains though; just wild beasts and a harsh environment.
  • Literary Example: Baby Island
  • The Bones on Black Spruce Mountain by David Budbill. Yet another example of the author having shown his work by depicting all the research and knowledge necessary to live safely in the wilderness—and this is for a trip just a few short miles away from home, for less than a week! Despite the occasional hazards and dangers the boys in the book face (particularly when climbing the titular mountain and weathering a terrible storm), the book is generally not filled with death-defying escapes due to the knowledge they have gained from camping and their next-door neighbor who acts as The Mentor. There's also no befriending of cute animals or danger from poachers and such. The book does, however, have a very mature theme to it worthy of a Newbery Medal, with the meaning of friendship, family, loneliness, and despair being explored; and the boys, who are not related but one of which has been adopted by the other's parents, do bond even more as a result of the journey.
  • Digimon Adventure could be considered an animated example, except the villains, natives, and animal companions all happen to be mons in a Trapped in Another World Science Fantasy setting. Notably, Two Years' Vacation was cited as a major influence for the series.
  • The Good Dinosaur (2015). Once again the main character isn't human and neither are the villains, but it otherwise follows the mold pretty closely. It even has the requisite "cute animal" that the hero befriends and the villain wants to kill— except that this time, the animal in question is a human.
  • In a roundabout way Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) is sort of one, except the "wilderness" in a backyard... but the kids have been shrunk and a few other "classic" elements of this show up.
  • Literary example: Island of the Blue Dolphins details the survival of a Nicole├▒o girl, Karana, who is left stranded on her island when her people are taken away on a ship. Initially, she and her brother Ramo work together to gather food and maintain their home, but when he is killed by a pack of wild dogs she must survive on her own - for nearly two decades.
  • Kids Praise: The fifth album has shades of this; the kids are hiking up a mountain to go camping, and throughout the narrative, the kids have a lot of difficulties: tents are hard to set up, hiking is hot, sweaty work, and when it gets dark, two of the kids get lost when they disobey Psalty's instructions to stay on the trail.
  • The Land Before Time (1988) could almost be a complete example, except that the "kids" in this case are juvenile dinosaurs, and the villain in question is a predatory T-rex that is stalking them.
  • Literary example: My Side of the Mountain, presents the most realistic wilderness epic (with a happy ending) possible. A very long time is spent recounting the vast amount of research the main character did to prepare for his stay in the woods. Was made into a film in 1969.
  • Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977) The Peanuts gang has a white water race down a river in the wilderness and encounter numerous perils and hazards along the way, with Charlie Brown learning a little bit about leadership and getting some self-respect — though it isn't much.
  • Literary semi-example: In the Sovereign Stone Trilogy, Children of Dunner who are called to become Dominion Lords are required to hunt through the wilderness to find Dunner's grave. One of the main characters goes through it with his sister (though it is only described in passing).
  • Literary example: the Stephanie Harrington series is about an adventurous girl, the daughter of two scientists, who is a colonist on the planet Sphinx. Something of a Reconstruction of the genre, as her first adventure in the wilderness results in her almost being killed, and the adults see to it that she is better supervised and receives the type of training that will allow her not to die a senseless death in the vast wilderness of Sphinx. The local natives also pull double-duty as the cute animals Stephanie must protect from the poachers who refuse to consider the 'cats as sentient beings.
    • It's only partially in this genre because after the original short story (which formed the core of the first book when expanded upon later) really involves Stephanie having to survive on her own at all (with the help of Climbs Quickly, the Treecat she befriends). Most of the rest of the books take place at the Harrington homestead or in more metropolitan settings on Sphinx, such as Twin Forks.
  • Literary example: Tunnel in the Sky, which starts off with a group of high school students sent on a survival test on an uninhabited planet. The test is meant to last a few days at the most, but they realize they're stranded when no one comes to retrieve them. The students must band together to survive on the alien planet until they can be rescued - however long that takes.
  • Ulvesommer (2003) has some elements, but has a Dumb Blonde "Glamorous" Single Mother who Really Gets Around, the Kid Hero is a single girl, although the boy she wants to be Like Brother and Sister with has a huge crush on her, and the hunter crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
  • White Wolves: Each film features teenagers struggling to protect themselves and (in every film but the first) others while learning more about independence, the dangers of nature, and the nobility of certain animals.

Deconstruction: Films or books which deconstruct (or otherwise have a darker take on) this trope:

  • The Blue Lagoon: Children are shipwrecked and benefit from none of civilization's knowledge- including sex education. Cue freakouts when the girl gets her period.
  • Cocaine Bear structures the scenes involving children like an absolutely warped version of one of these, complete with incredibly graphic violence and a ten-year-old shouting the F-word.
  • Digimon Survive is a darker take on Digimon Adventure with much more emphasis on the survival part, and isn't afraid to show the more gruesome consequences of kids under extreme stress in a strange world where everything wants to kill them. Notably, Lord of the Flies was cited as one of its main inspirations. However, upon completing all the routes it's actually closer to a Decon-Recon Switch.
  • The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon: Nine year old Trisha goes off the trail for a bit and is hopelessly lost. It doesn't take her long to get violently ill from drinking stream water, start hallucinating, and then get sicker and sicker until she's on death's doorstep and facing down a bear. Luckily she's rescued just before it kills her, but even then it's implied she'll have to spend quite a long time in the hospital recovering from her ordeals.
  • Hatchet: City kid gets stranded in the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on his back and a hatchet. He nearly dies multiple times from poison berries, wild animals, malfunctioning equipment, and other things, and he is always miserable, hungry, and filthy. And then once he gets back to civilization, he's so changed from his experience in the wilderness that he can't fit in anymore.
  • Life of Pi is like Hatchet except it's set on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean and has a tiger. The protagonist's family is killed, and he resorts to acts of increasingly extreme savagery and brutality in order to survive.
  • Lord of the Flies: A bunch of kids get stranded on a Deserted Island... and then proceed to collapse into anarchy and start murdering each other without the mitigating influence of civilization.
  • Yellowjackets hits upon many of the same themes as Lord of the Flies, only with a cast of teenage girls (specifically, high school soccer players) instead of adolescent boys. A large part of the show follows the now-adult survivors 25 years later, who were all left traumatized by it and have all found different ways to cope with it.