By Shawn McKenzie 05/27/2005
Last year’s Shark Tale became the first computer-animated feature that I didn’t give a perfect rating (at least since this site came into existence in March of 2002.) It just didn’t give me the same thrill as the other computer-animated movies. Pacific Data Images (PDI), the computer animation studio that Dreamworks works with, did Shark Tale, and now they get a chance to redeem themselves with Madagascar.
New York’s Central Park Zoo is the setting for the beginning of this movie. Alex the Lion (voice of Ben Stiller) is a pampered lion that basks in adulation of the zoo’s visitors. The only thing he asks for is steaks. Melman Mankowitz the Giraffe (voice of David Schwimmer) is a seemingly always-sick giraffe who likes the zoo because they always feed his need for medical supplies. Gloria the Hippo (voice of Jada Pinkett Smith) is a hippo that doesn’t have a care in the world…other than being loved for her beautiful self. You would think that all of the animals would love it there…but you’d be wrong. Alex’s best friend, Marty the Zebra (voice of Chris Rock), wishes that he could live in wild where he can roam free. It is Marty’s tenth birthday, and the love of his friends, plus a fake mural of “the wild,” just ain’t cuttin’ it. When he overhears a plan by a group of penguins, consisting of lead penguin Skipper (voice of Tom McGrath) and his subordinates Kowalski (voice of Chris Miller), Private (voice of Christopher Knights), and Rico (who doesn’t speak), to tunnel out of the zoo and make their way to Antarctica, Marty decides to break out as well. That night, he breaks out and heads for what he hears is the wide-open fields of Connecticut, but when Alex realizes that Marty is gone, he decides to have the others go with him to find the zebra. They find Marty in Grand Central Station, but before they can bring him back home, they’re shot with tranquilizer darts by the zoo’s animal security team and are shipped off to the Kenya Wildlife Preserve in Africa. Accordingly, they are also shipped with the penguins (who had failed to tunnel out of the zoo) and Mason the Chimpanzee (voice of Conrad Vernon), who always talks about throwing poo at people with his fellow monkeys. On the way to Kenya, the penguins overpower the humans and take over the cargo ship. In their attempt to steer the ship to Antarctica, they accidentally manage to send the crates transporting Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria overboard into the sea. All four friends wash up on an island beach in different places, but they quickly find each other, and they think at first that they are in San Diego, where they will live in their zoo. After they explore the island a little further, they slowly realize that they are in the actual “wild,” specifically the wild jungle island of Madagascar. Soon they run into other animals partying deep in the jungle. They see a group of lemurs ruled by King Julian the 13th (voice of Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a. Ali G) and his assistant Maurice (voice of Cedric the Entertainer.) When the lemurs see their large new friends, who they call the “New York Giants,” they are impressed when the Giants scare off their enemies, the hyena-like fossas. Julian confirms that the Giants are friendly (at least to them) by sacrificing an ultra-cute baby mouse lemur named Mort (voice of Andy Richter) as bait to see if they will harm the other lemurs. After making that confirmation, Julian invites the Giants to join them in the open fields of Marty’s dreams. When they soon realize that the Giants are really just a bunch of “pansies,” they shun them. Alex now really wants to get back home, but his natural carnivorous instincts kick in, and he actually becomes a threat to his friends rather than an aid (he starts to imagine that all of his friends are steaks.) Marty, Melman, and Gloria must now find a way to get off the island before Alex eats them.
I got a chance to see the first 45 minutes of this movie about a month and a half ago. I was very entertained by what I saw, and when I finally saw the rest of the movie about two weeks ago, I was equally impressed. The last part of the movie held up with the rest of it.
All of the vocal performances were great, but the supporting characters were the ones who had me in stitches. First…the penguins stole the show. The deadly serious penguins had everyone in the theater, including me, laughing loudly. I could be wrong, but I think that the funniest part of the whole movie that garnered the biggest laugh had to be when the penguins had successfully taken command of the ship and had steered it towards Antarctica. Once they got there, the penguins looked over the vast nothingness of the continent and Skipper exclaims, “Well…this sucks.” I was in tears! (You’d have to see it.) In addition…the chimpanzees, lead by the snooty, upper crust-like Mason was funny, because he would get a laugh every time with the running joke about throwing poo. I think that they put the joke in just the right amount of times (any more and it would have been annoying.) Finally… Mort was so adorable as the bait thrown to the Giants. He reminded me of the shrimp who didn’t want to be eaten in Shark Tale. I didn’t realize that Richter was the voice of Mort until I read the credits.
I do want to make a comment about Stiller’s vocal performance. This isn’t a criticism…just something that I noticed. He didn’t seem like his usual hilarious self like he is in his live action movies. His performance seemed a little restrained (I guess that does make it a criticism, but it doesn’t affect my rating.) I was hoping that the character of Alex would have been more outrageous.
I liked the visual effects of the movie, but honestly…I prefer a good story to impressive visual effects. Sure…computer animation may look cool, but give me a great story and you can entertain me, regardless if it is a traditional-animated feature or a computer-animated one. I still love the classics, like 1941’s Dumbo and 1942’s Bambi, or recent classics, like 1991’s Oscar-nominated Beauty and the Beast and 1994’s The Lion King. I think that the reason why computer animation took over is that the writing got better. 1995’s Toy Story, 2001’s Oscar-winning Shrek, and 2003’s Oscar-winning Finding Nemo all became huge hits because the vocal performances and the writing were perfect. They could have all been done in traditional animation style, as long as those two elements were in place.
If you have already seen Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith enough times, I highly recommend taking your kids (or yourself) to see Madagascar. It will make up for Shark Tale (like Episode III made up for Episodes I and II, even though I personally enjoyed II), and you will have a fun time at the theater. I bet you will want to seek out a stuffed penguin or Mort for your kids after seeing the film.
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