The OG white girl whose family lived in Africa
The Wild Thornberry’s was an early aughts production of Klasky Csupo, an era-defining animation studio responsible for millennial relics like Rugrats, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Rocket Power, and As Told by Ginger. After much critical acclaim from elementary schoolers, and the Generation X parents responsible for them, in 2002, The Wild Thornberrys Film was released on the big screen. I unmistakably remember my concessions order for this momentous occasion: one box of frozen dibs, one small popcorn, one large Icee, half strawberry, and half blue raspberry (not ever to be mistaken for the cotton candy flavor, yuck).
It was a feast fit for a celebration. Eliza Thornberry, the pig-tailed Zoolingualist, was getting her own movie. As a kid who frequently rescued cats and dogs, the premise spoke to my tender nine-year-old heart.
In this adventurous, family-friendly film, Eliza (Lacey Chabert), our 12-year-old heroine, sets off on a cross-continental adventure to rescue a stolen cheetah cub, Tally (Kimberly Brooks), and return him to his mother, Akela (Alfre Woodard). It all makes sense now. Of course, Gretchen Wieners was sympathetic to Cady Heron because Ms. Chabert was the OG white girl whose fictitious family lived in Africa.
“You will have your own challenges, and I predict you will meet them splendidly”
In her rescue undertaking, Eliza is shipped to boarding school, fights off poachers, and saves her older teenage-obsessed sister Debbie (Danielle Harris) from an untimely death. In the process, Eliza is forced to confess her ability to speak with animals, which breaches her spiritual contract with the Shaman who bestowed her powers. After Eliza loses her linguistic capacities, she faces her most significant obstacle, saving a herd of elephants without the ability to speak with them.
“Trust me. You were never ordinary”
It’s not uncommon for me to think that I don’t have “enough” of what I need to step into who I am being called to be, the version of myself that I’m most astonished with. I humble my ego and proclaim all the reasons I can’t be who I’m meant to be. “I don’t have two hours to work out,” so I can’t get my body in shape. “I don’t have an immersion blender,” so I can’t make butternut squash soup. “I don’t have any free time,” so I can’t write my blog. However, rewatching The Wild Thornberry movie, I realized it’s not external resources that make me extraordinary. I’m spectacular when I’m simply being my ordinary self.
After Eliza loses her powers, she feels incapable of saving the elephants. Still, her sister Debbie reminds Eliza of her connection and care for animals that preceded her supernatural anointment. Yes, Eliza was gifted her powers because of her love for animals. But without her powers, that love does not disappear.
“And you did this not with your gift, but with your heart. If this is what you can do without your powers, you have a greater destiny than I’ve ever known”
It’s a powerful feeling to realize that you didn’t need what you thought you needed to complete something metamorphic. All you needed was to believe in yourself and follow your heart. Eliza did save those elephants, and like the rest of us, she didn’t need magic powers to make a real difference in the world.
When I look at myself, I acknowledge that I have never been ordinary and that it’s also far too late to try. Accepting my exceptional nature is a much better use of my time.
The Wild Thornberry’s Movie is streaming now on HBOMax.
Fun Fact: Darwin, Eliza's chimpanzee companion, and BFF, is voiced by Tom Kane, who is also the voice of "Him" on The Powerpuff Girls. ICONIC!