Madagascar (2005)

madagascar movie poster This review was originally written and posted on January 17, 2007.

Living during the animation renaissance is not always the wonderful experience people who call it that would have you believe it to be. There certainly have been some amazingly designed and animated films in the last ten years, and yet there have also been plenty of copycat clunkers, as there will always be.

Pixar seems to be at the forefront of the Renaissance creating beautiful films that are fun and entertaining to the littlest tikes to the oldest adults. A difficult task to achieve given the constraints both of those two groups place together – it can neither be too juvenile to bore the adults nor too progressive as to offend those same adults around their children.

Dreamworks has been much more hit-and-miss in their animated kid fare. With Shrek, they nailed a series that rivals the best of Pixar’s work, yet by all accounts a Shark’s Tale was disastrous, and having just seen Madagascar I must say they have struck out again.

All is not rotten in the state of Madagascar, but its flaws are detrimental enough to keep me from watching it again. The jokes are mostly funny and most of the characters are enjoyable. The basic storyline is a good one with plenty of potential, but they run out of gas too quickly and things run aground about the halfway point.

The basic plot is that a bunch of New York City zoo animals escape the confines of the zoo and flee into the city only to be captured, and shipped off to a Kenya wildlife preserve. Unfortunately, before the ship lands it is hijacked and the animals are plunged into the sea, winding up in Madagascar.

From there it is a classic fish-out-of-water tale with these city animals having to deal with life in the wild. My problem with the story is that once they get to Madagascar they take the story into serious territory, but, due to this being a family story, chicken out before coming to its plausible conclusion.

The lion, you see, has been living large at the zoo as the most visited animal. He lives like a king, basking in the love of the humans and eating as many steaks as he can. Once he is in the wild he begins reverting back to his natural state – for there are now no processed steaks – and starts to have thoughts of slaughtering his friends for lunch.

However, since kids would be very upset to find the lion eating the characters they have grown to love, the filmmakers must create a different kind of solution. Since there are no likable fish characters in the picture the lion is able to chow down on raw sushi. It is a ridiculous, tacked-on solution. I understand the need not to cause undue mental stress to children, but making him devour the fish – who are also very much alive and cute – seems a bad choice. Besides not fitting with the character, it doesn’t really resolve anything other than he’ll no longer eat his friends.

The main characters are mostly unlikable. None of them were particularly funny or interesting, and two of them were underused and annoying. It’s not hard to realize that the lion’s reluctance to leave the zoo will result in him eventually accepting the wild and becoming the true king of the jungle. But the transformation winds up being barely existent, and the character never becomes really likable.

The only truly interesting characters were the secondary ones. The penguins were great fun, and it is good to see the filmmakers realizing this by placing them in some short films. Likewise, the monkeys as sophisticated socialites (who still throw poo) were brilliant. Too bad they had such short screen time.

The animation felt too clunky and stylized to my eyes. There are lots of odd, stiff angles and lines that made the characters look more like plastic toys than living creatures. The lion was also full of kinetic energy, causing him to jump around like crickets on crack which got annoying really fast.

It’s not a bad film. There were numerous funny moments and the basic concept is a good one. The plot falls apart in the second half and the main characters never gain the dimensionality that their animation would suppose. I’d categorize it as an enjoyable kids’ film that adults will get a few laughs out of.

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