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Madagascar – Bizarrely hilarious fur & feather mix-ups

(Originally posted April 11, 2006]

It seems appropriate after the previous review to write a bit about an animated film that I really did enjoy. Madagascar (2005) is all CGI animation, but the script and voicing make up for that deficiency. It may not be as intensely humorous as Shrek, but I found the story much more engaging and entertaining than, say, Finding Nemo.

Four residents of the Central Park Zoo find themselves off an an adventure of improbable scope when Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) begins to yearn for more than just the limited vistas they can see from their enclosures. His best friend Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) is the star of the zoo, popular with children and adults, and not easily convinced that there could be anything better out there. But when Marty disappears from his pen one night and heads off to Grand Central Station hoping to find “The Wild” (which he assumes is somewhere out in Connecticut,) Alex and two of their other friends, Melman the giraffe (hypochondriacally played by David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) decide that he is unsafe out there by himself and they set out to find and retrieve him.

At the same time, four male penguins have been conspiring to escape and, apparently, swim back to Antarctica if they must. Their dubious tunneling attempts are stolen right from The Great Escape. Wait, where have we already seen that parody? Chicken Run, of course. 

It all comes together after Alex, Melman, and Gloria succeed in locating Marty at the train station, only to be recaptured, tranquilized, and shipped off because they are now considered too dangerous for the zoo. They awaken in crates on shipboard, and assume they are being transferred to Los Angeles or some other larger zoo, rather than to preserve in Kenya which is their actual destination. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) for them, the penguins have arrived on the same ship, which they proceed to hijack. 

Penguin navigation is doubtful at best, and the large crates end up being knocked overboard, drifting in the tide. Cast ashore somewhere in “The Wild,” Marty is soon making the best of it while Alex grows homesick and then discovers his instincts as a natural, zebra-eating carnivore. Of course, this must be explained to both by the local tribe of party mad lemurs.

I won’t put any more spoilers here. If you haven’t seen it, I think any fan of furry fantasies will find it at least worth the cost of rental. Stiller, Rock, and Schwimmer were all Saturday Night Live regulars, and they have an effective chemistry together even when hidden behind the animation. Smith gives superb voice to big mama Gloria, whose orders are rarely disobeyed. The plot may be far-fetched, even for a cartoon, and one may wonder  how even confused penguins could end up on the coast of Madagascar while trying to navigate from New York to Antarctica, but hey, it’s all in fun. And it’s genuinely funny. 

I’m not a big fan of CGI, and much prefer traditional hand drawn characters. Nonetheless, the work in Madagascar is energetic and sophisticated. A lot of effort was put into the backgrounds, and the character gestures and expressions are lively and appropriate. It’s not just kid stuff, though the kids will enjoy it too. Adults with an interest in things furry can’t help but be caught up in it, I think. I recommend it for all audiences. (Don’t skip the extras on the DVD. The obligatory “making of” shorts are fascinating, and the Penguin Christmas story is a heart warmer.)

Rating: 4 of 5 possible apples  appleappleappleapple

Madagascar (2005)
Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, directors
Mark Burton and Billy Frolick, screenwriters
Dreamworks, available on DVD now, rated PG by the MPAA

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