Madagascar – Movie Review (**1/2)

(Originally posted on 6-7-05)

Madagascar, the Dreamworks’ animated film about a small group of zoo animals that escape the big city to live in the “wild”, is exponentially better than Shark Tale, however, that probably isn’t saying a whole heck of a lot. Shark Tale, quite frankly, should never be confused with the standard for quality. In order to set a good baseline against which to make a fair comparison you really need to start with something that is perfectly average in all that it achieves, not great, but not horrible, something that just is what it is – for better or for worse.

With that in mind it is probably more appropriate to start off this review by saying that Madagascar, the Dreamworks’ animated film about a small group of zoo animals that escape the big city to live in the “wild”, is every bit as good as Shrek 2.

The tale, or is it “tail” (get it, I used “tale” and “tail” both, because animals have tails, and this movie is about animals and “tells” – hehehe – their tale… ok, anyway….), follows a Lion, a Zebra, a Giraffe and a Hippopotamus as they get moved from their comfy homes in the Manhattan Zoo (after one of them tries to escape to the wilds of Connecticut), to a wildlife preserve in Africa. Only something happens on the boat trip over and they end up stranded on the island of Madagascar where they are left to figure out what it is like to be on their own in the wild.

Before seeing this movie I had never quite realized that it was possible for an animated character to be able to overact. I now stand wiser today than I was prior to seeing this. Ben Stiller pulls off the impossible task of overacting the role of a pampered, narcissistic, talking lion. Chris Rock turns in a perfectly perfunctionary Chris Rock performance as a talking Zebra that longs for the opportunity to run free in the wild. If you close your eyes you can almost imagine the main character from Head of State as a Zebra without upsetting the delicate balance of the universe at all. David Schwimmer delivers a tour de force performance as a hypochondriac Giraffe (nothing we haven’t expected from him based on his serious work on Friends) and Jada Pinkett Smith makes a much bigger impact as a hippopotamus here than she did as a hippopotamus in the Matrix sequels (ok, I know she wasn’t a hippopotamus in the Matrix sequels, but she might as well have been for all the impact she had on them).

Right, before you jump all over me, let me go on record and say that Madagascar isn’t horrible, there are actually some pretty funny moments, just none of them with the main characters. The Penguins are far and away the best part of the movie and really the whole thing should have been about them. The Lemurs are extremely entertaining and have the one true solid snort and laugh out loud gag of the entire show. And the Monkeys come in with a respectable third place finish. Now if they could have just made the focus of the film as interesting as the peripheral and supporting characters.

My main problem with it boils down to it actually having a fairly worthwhile story to tell, but failing to sell it correctly. The egregious overacting (which again, I think is a first for an animated movie), the CG animation for Attention Deficit sufferers and the lack of true character development on the part of the leads all contribute to its struggles to live up to its potential.

One of the main issues facing animation, and movies in general, is the casting of personalities that then shape the character as opposed to the other way around – the shaping of characters and then casting the appropriate actors to fill the roles. And this is the main problem with Madagascar, the lead roles were cast incorrectly for the needs of the characters and this distracted from the ability to compellingly tell its story appropriately.

Madagascar has entertaining moments, but in the end just doesn’t deliver on its promise and that is a shame, there is a lesson somewhere in there just waiting to be told, but probably not by Hollywood – that would make too much sense.


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