The pilot episode of The Wild Thornberrys was aired on Nickelodeon during the Big Help-a-thon in 1998. It is unique in series in that it is an 11-minute episode rather than a 22-minute episode.
This episode takes place near Mt. Killmanjaro. The Thornberry family are amid breakfast as Eliza talks with a small animal. The animal informs her that something is headed their way causing Eliza to gasp. Marianne is scooping up oatmeal into dishes for the members of the family. Nigel refers to it as porridge. Donnie spatters his oatmeal all over the table. Marianne tries to get Donnie to say oatmeal and Debbie sarcastically states that Donnie doesn't speak English. Nigel asks Debbie where Eliza had gotten off to and Eliza runs up to inform her parents that a stampede is coming, stating it at the same time Nigel realizes one is coming. Marianne send the girls, Donnie and Darwin to the "camper" while Nigel and herself film the stampede. Eliza pulls the cord labeled "stampede" and the "camper" locks down. Eliza opens the door to watch the stampede
as it goes by. Nigel goes into an explanation as the zebra rush around him. Inside the 'camper' Debbie flips through a magazine while Eliza and Darwin 'talk.' Eliza comments that if she told her parents she talked to animals, then she could help the show (which "Gift of Gab" later contradicts). Then the 'Foundation of Natural Science' radios in on the short wave for Marianne, Debbie then tells Eliza that someone is calling in, and gives a sighs when Donnie shoved a bug in her face. Eliza answers the shortwave, informing the man on the other end that her parents are in the middle of a zebra stampede.
Unbeknownst to Eliza and the man from the Foundation, a short squat man is listening into the transmission. He comments to another man, Kip, that someone is talking to the Thornberry family. The second taller man stand ups out of the shadows and states that where ever the Thornberrys go there are animals. He goes on to state where there are animals there is horns, teeth, tusks and money, as he cuts a piece of cake and eats it.
Marianne puts the camera back in its case as Debbie comes to get the remaining oatmeal off the table. She warns Donnie that if he touches her with the bug that he will be 'wearing an oatmeal overcoat. Donnie touches her with it and she dumps the oatmeal on him. Debbie is promptly scolded, and it is stated that Donnie was raised by Oranugtans. Marianne informs Debbie that she will bathe Donnie. Eliza comes rushing out of the 'camper' and infroms her mother that the 'Foundation' wants them to do a show on a Black Rhino. Marianne states that it is 'way too dangerous.' Nigel comes in and states that the Black Rhino is terribly aggersive when it's provoked. Then he realizes what he said then agrees with Marianne. Eliza then tells them that they have to do it today or the funding will be pulled from the show. That is the deciding factor for Marianne, she closes the camera case and tells Debbie and Eliza that Nigel and her will be back before dinner, telling them to stay near the "camper". Marianne and Nigel set off to find the Rhino. Eliza tells Darwin that they need to do something to which Darwin responds with a groan. Kip and Beiderman hover near the Thornberrys camper, as Debbie bathes Donnie, waiting for Eliza to come out. Debbie asks where she's going and Eliza tells her "to find a Rhino and save the show for mom and dad." Kip and Beiderman follow Eliza as she sets off to find the Rhino. Donnie leaps out of his bath and runs off, this causes Debbie to shout at him to take his bath like a human.
Eliza follows the zebra tracks to where they started and Darwin points it out causing Eliza to stated that she's not giving up. A group of hyenas rush the pair and Eliza tells Darwin not to panic, then she drops to all fours crawling towards the hyenas. She tells them that she's looking for a rhino prompting one of them to ask if she wants to get killed, which causes the rest of them to laugh. Eliza then states that she wants to talk to him. One of the heynas states it's a very bad idea. The heyna goes on to state the Rhino stays near the 'Big Shade', another heyna remarks that Darwin looks tasty. Then they make a comment about what they are having for dinner, and Eliza shouts for her and Darwin to run. Eliza and Darwin use vines to swing over a river and to safety from the pack.
Nigel starts to narrate the episode and comments that it could be heard by placing an ear to the ground, which he does, then stands back up. He then has a colony of fireants swarming about his face then body. Marianne asks 'don't they sting?' Nigel responds that they bite then yelps as the ants start biting him.
Darwin apologizes to Eliza, remarking that they will never find the rhino. Eliza spots the 'big shade' and says that they will. Darwin states that he doesn't see the Rhino.
Debbie bursts through the underbrush while looking for Donnie. She hears a noise behind her. She scoffs and turns around. Donnie leaps out of the bushes and rushes past her, knocking her over. Donnie seems to taunt Debbie as she blows a bubble.
Darwin is climbing up a tree after Eliza. Darwin states it's a bad idea to be climbing up the tree. Eliza remarks that if the Rhino is around that they'll spot him. Eliza scans the savannah and spots the rhino. Eliza calls down to Darwin asking him what Rhinos like. Darwin replies, "Charging, killing, crushing, eating." Eliza proceeds to shout out to the Rhino, saying that she has something good to eat. Eliza falls out of the tree as she celebrates getting the Rhino's attention. Thankfully Darwin catches her. Eliza thanks Darwin and the rhino passes right under her. Eliza gets on all fours and the Rhino states that Eliza said there was food. Eliza offers the Rhino a sandwich, which the Rhino promptly eats. Eliza tells the Rhino that she's making a video and pulls out a handheld camera and starts filming. Donnie darts into view, near the Rhino's backside. The rhino becomes annoyed with Donnie's jabbering, and kicks a large amount of dirt at him. Donnie bites the Rhino's tail in retailation. The rhino bellows and begins to charge, Darwin flees, but Eliza backs up, still filming, into Debbie. Debbie is surprised that Eliza knocked her over but screams when she sees the rhino.
Marianne folds up her tripod and sits down on a rock. She packs up the camera and tells Nigel that they should go. Nigel on the other hand has his ear to the ground listening. Marianne states they will lose the funding before noticing what Nigel is doing. She calls out his name and he tells her that he can hear it. Which Marianne asks fireants?' Nigel tells her that it's a Black Rhino which is chasing 'two girls and a chimpanzee.' Upon realizing whats going on he tells Marianne to follow him.
Debbie, Eliza and Darwin flee from the Black Rhino as it charges. Donnie is still hanging on to it's tail. Debbie stops short and throws out her arm to stop Eliza and Darwin, shouting for Eliza to stop, before they fall off the edge of a cliff. The trio turn around to see the rhino still charging at them. Nigel drops from a tree onto the Rhino's back and covers its eyes, bringing it to a stop. The trio looks at Nigel, shocked. Nigel makes the rhino turn away, with it's eyes still covered. Marianne comes up and asks if everyone is okay. The three nod. Nigel guides the rhino back around, claming it down, then uncovers it's eyes so it sees the savannah in front of it.
Kip O' Donnel and Neil Bedierman are standing there, much to Nigel's dismay. Beiderman throws a net over the rhino, with Nigel still on top and Kip takes a sip of tea. Kip then states that Eliza's quite the adventurer and lead them striaght to the Rhino. Kip reveals the plans to take the rhino's horn, grind it up and sell it. The rest of the Thornberry family comes up. Eliza rushes up to get the net off the rhino. The rhino inquires if Kip and Biederman are a part of the video and Eliza tells him that they aren't and that they would kill him. This makes the Rhino throw off the net, and Nigel. He huffs as he turns to face the two poachers. The rhino proceeds to charge the two men, causing them to run off. Donnie releases his bite on the rhino's tail and crashes into Debbie. Donnie licks Debbie, to her disgust and jumps down. Then she starts chasing him again.
Marianne asks Eliza what she's doing out on the plains and her explaination better be good. Eliza and Darwin exchange a nervous glance. Eliza gives a smile. The family returns to the 'camper' and Nigel and Marianne review the footage Eliza took of the rhino. Marianne states that it's great, but that Eliza is still grounded until she's fifty. Marianne looks around for Eliza when she doesn't hear a reply. Eliza is shown crossing an old bridge with Darwin following, him calling out her name. She tells Darwin that if he wants to see the Lions hunt then it has to be at night. Darwin freaks out and tells Eliza to wait.
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