***1/2 (out of 5)
May 27, 2005
Ben Stiller as ALEX THE LION
Chris Rock as MARTY THE ZEBRA
David Schwimmer as MELMAN THE GIRAFFE
Jada Pinkett Smith as GLORIA THE HIPPO
Sacha Baron Cohen as JULIAN
Cedric the Entertainer as MAURICE
Andy Richter as MORT
Directed by: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’ve generally liked most of the computer generated features that have been released by the major studios. I even liked “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” although that was a notorious bomb that almost bankrupted its own company.
Clearly, the market leaders in the area of CGI animation are Pixar and DreamWorks. FOX comes in a distant third, having only released “Ice Age” and “Robots” as full-blown event films. (However, they’re coming up from behind fast with the impending “Ice Age 2.”)
Without fail, the Pixar movies have been excellent. But DreamWorks stumbled last year with the cinematic atrocity “Shark Tale.” Balancing that against the “Shrek” franchise, the DreamWorks slate isn’t quite batting a thousand.
So, understandably, I went into “Madagascar” with caution. But I found a lot to like about the movie. I generally enjoyed the cast. Having been a Ben Stiller fan for years, I was curious to see how he did leading a film with just his voice. He held his own, but it was very clear that his greatest strengths lie in on-camera work.
Chris Rock had done some excellent voice work in the past, including some great stuff in “Doctor Doolittle,” so he was a shoe-in. Jada Pinkett Smith gives a good comic performance as Gloria the Hippo. Even David Schwimmer, who easily can fall into the realm of annoying, worked perfectly as Melman the hypochondriac giraffe.
The movie tells the story of a group of animals in the Central Park Zoo who escape to the Wilds. The original attempt is made by a bunch of gangster penguins, but they are followed by Marty the Zebra. Marty’s friends decide to go after him and return him home. However, after terrorizing the good people of New York with runaway zoo animals, the group is boxed up to be shipped to a game preserve.
When it comes to story, don’t expect to be blown away by “Madagascar.” We’ve seen much of the plot before – maybe not in the exact sense, but the story of animals (or people) longing to be free has been almost done to death. The only less-original animation plot involves a princess trying to marry out of royalty (or vice versa).
Still, I was okay with the weak plot. “Madagascar” still makes for a fun movie.
Like “Shark Tale,” “Madagascar” relies more on gags and one-liners. However, unlike “Shark Tale,” “Madagascar” does a decent job of executing these gags. The chance of someone enjoying this movie is almost entirely dependent on whether they want a great plot or are happy with just the jokes.
“Madagascar” isn’t the best family film to come down the pike, and it’s got a lot to live up to in the CGI world, but it sure as heck beats the pants off of DreamWorks’ previous “Shark Tale.”
You don’t have anyone nearly as irritating as Jack Black or Will Smith. And in this film, the characters are plain goofy rather than just weak. But the real treat are scene-stealing performances by some minor characters. Sacha Baron Cohen (aka D Ali G) is hilarious as Julian the lemur king, and director Tom McGrath scores as the Penguin leader. Two intellectual monkeys intent on flinging poo at Tom Wolfe are also a riot. McGrath in particular rivals Brad Bird’s director cameo as Edna in “The Incredibles” with his low-key performance. I would have thought he was the trained comedian.
“Madagascar” revels in its own silliness and does so unapologetically. The kids are going to love the zany characters, and there’s a fair share of humor in there for parents as well.