Madagascar (2005)

2008 #89
Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath | 82 mins | TV | U / PG

MadagascarIt had been my impression that this summer’s sequel, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, was a weaker follow-up to a middling original. Clearly I was reading the wrong review, because Rotten Tomatoes offers a different consensus: “an improvement on the original, with more fleshed-out characters, crisper animation and more consistent humor.” Oh. So what of the original?

The characters may not offer great depth, but they serve their purpose well enough. The plot focuses on Marty the zebra, voiced by Chris Rock, who wants to escape to the wild, and Alex the lion, voiced by Ben Stiller, who doesn’t — but doesn’t have a choice when they’re whisked off half-an-hour in. This might leave David Schwimmer’s giraffe Melman and Jada Pinkett Smith’s hippo Gloria with little to do but support, but in an 80-minute kids’ animation you can’t expect an Altman-esque portmanteau.

The animation is better than I expected. At the time, the angular style looked cheap, like a step back from the realism-aiming work of Pixar and the Shrek team. It’s just stylised however, still allowing plenty of expression in characters’ faces and detail in their movements and the locations. It’s not a exceptional example of how brilliant computer animated films can be (unquestionably Pixar’s forte, especially in the likes of Ratatouille and WALL-E’s earlier scenes), but it’s better than some sparse and clunky efforts (such as Aardman’s Flushed Away).

Equally, the humour is above average. Large laughs may be sporadic but are there, particularly in a few moments that nicely spoof other films. Standouts include Planet of the Apes and American Beauty — clearly aimed at the adult audience who have been dragged along by the kids, have come expecting Pixar-level entertainment, or want to see what Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen can be doing in a family film. Plus there’s the penguins, a little band of wannabe escapees who thankfully aren’t overused, especially as the last few years have seen a severe overload of penguin movies (March of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Surf’s Up…) If there’s one element that could’ve been bumped up it’s the monkeys; on the other hand, like the penguins, they’re not done to death.

Madagascar doesn’t reach the highs of Pixar — no surprise there — but it’s at least nudging the ballpark. If the sequel’s better then I might even seek it out before it makes it all the way down to TV.*

4 out of 5

* I never did; and now it’s been on TV (several times), I still haven’t. ^

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