Film — Madagascar (PG)

Madagascar (PG)

by Amy Diaz

New York zoo animals find life in the wild a bit too rustic for their citified taste in the latest DreamsWorks salvo in the animation war Madagascar.

Shrek was great but Pixar—with its Finding Nemo and The Incredibles—is winning the fight for animation supremacy. DreamWorks recent animated features — Shark’s Tale, for example — seem more like excellent concepts than good movies. As with Madagascar, you feel in these movies like you are watching one long movie pitch without ever really seeing the movie.

The pitch here seems to be Lion King meets Out-of-Towners. Alex (Ben Stiller) the lion is the star of the Central Park Zoo. Crowds flock to take pictures of his antics — from playfulness to mock roars — and to buy his merchandise, of which Alex himself is incredibly fond. Alex’s best friend is Marty (Chris Rock), a zebra who, on his 10th birthday, suffers something of a midlife crisis. He want to see The Wild, a place he’s only imagines (with the help of a mural painted near his cage. Alex tries to bring his friend back to reality — they have a great life at the zoo. But Marty wants more and when a group of penguins decides to make an escape, he follows suit (heading to Grand Central Station so he can catch a train to Connecticut, which he has heard is very plush).

Alex and fellow buddies Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the take-no-guff hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) go search for their friend. The humans see this rescue mission in quite a different way and decide to ship the animals to Kenya (the animals, meanwhile, believe they’ve been transferred to, horror of horrors, San Diego). Along the way, more penguin mischief causes the four to become stranded on Madagascar. There, it’s not zoo employees but lemurs that greet the animals and try to win their help in scaring off the predators called the fusca.

Knowing the animals character types, you could probably guess at their lines—Marty is hip and funny, Gloria is sassy, Melman is a scaredy giraffe and Alex is Ben Stilleresque. You could guess at how they’ll handle every situation and, even if you hadn’t seen some of the relentless marketing for the movie you could probably guess at how they look. For a movie so full of color and motion, Madagascar is shockingly free of shock. It doesn’t surprise you much in its story, its dialog or its characters. The only mildly surprising thing about the whole movie is a subplot about what it truly means to be in the wild for a predator like Alex. No longer receiving his fresh steaks from the zoo, he suddenly regains the ability to issue a scare-the-pants-off-a-lemur roar and begins to see his friend Marty not so much as a companion but more as dinner. Normally happy cartoons such as this one do not go to such dark primal places but, no worries, even Alex’s lust to thin the herd can’t slow down a comedy more intent on showing off CGI and selling merchandising tie-ins. His carnivorous desires as well as the plot in total are taken care of rather abruptly in the movie’s final five minutes.

For all that it is a rather lazy movie—more concerned with flash than substance—Madagascar isn’t a horrible one. Though the large amount of talking-heavy parts will likely bore younger children, there is plenty of cavorting and poop-related humor to keep them watching. Actually, some of the best poop humor is even aimed more at adults, such as the monkeys who, escaping along with the main characters, discuss their plans for the city. One monkey speaks in a British accent, the other reads human and speaks sign language. Regular readers of the newspaper, they decide that they should head to Lincoln Center where Tom Wolfe is speaking and throw poop at him. It’s no The Incredibles, but I guess feces in the face of a pompous literary figure will do for a summer cartoon.

- Amy Diaz

 
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