Friday, May 27, 2005


Madagascar (Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath)

Darnell co-directed Dreamworks' first 3-D animated movie, Antz. This is McGrath's first big picture, although the official site says he worked on TV's "The Ren And Stimpy Show.". Co-written by Mark Burton and Billy Frolick, who aren't exactly rookies, but this is their first big feature as well.

I go into each Dreamworks animated picture with a sense of hope that some soul will find its way into the film, or that it will at the least be enjoyable. Antz, the Shrek films, and especially Shark Tale, lacked one ingredient or the other and I was taken out of the enjoyment. One big Dreamworks staple is to stock well-known actors to voice their cartoons--this at once drops possible enjoyment down a notch, mainly because these actors are so well-known and have this sort of baggage that come with them--it's hard not to imagine these people in front of a microphone delivering lines--rather than just enjoying the movie and being focused on the story. The other Dreamworks staple is this odd kind of fluidity to the animation--it always screams, "We're trying to be funny! Love us! We're funny!" and thus lacks some subtlety.

That is not to say that the Dreamworks cartoon can't be enjoyable at times, but it sets an early tone that's hard to shake. Some people love this, no doubt. Shrek 2 is one of our biggest grossing movies of all time. I've just had a very difficult time enjoying the hell out of them.

Madagascar continues the tradition, although it's not nearly as smartass as those other pictures, a good thing. However, what kept going through my mind is how basic this story is, how this shows the studios' commitment to 3-D animation extends to the most unambitious of stories. This movie doesn't have a very good one. A zebra (Chris Rock), a lion (Ben Stiller), a hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and a giraffe (David Schwimmer) in Central Park Zoo escape, get caught, and then are released to the wild, where they end up on the large island of Madagascar off the eastern African coast. While there, they try to adapt, and befriend lemurs (main couple of characters voiced by "Ali G" main guy Sacha Baron Cohen and Cedric the Entertainer, along with Andy Richter as the "cute" one). A friendship between a zebra and a lion is strained when the once tamed lion starts becoming wild and wants to eat everything in sight. Meanwhile, there's a B-story involving penguins trying to make it to Antarctica.

Whoa...hold on. That's what the whole movie should have been. These penguins are the funniest aspect of Madagascar, and they are bit players. Skipper, the main one, is voiced by McGrath himself, in the best characterization in the film. The penguins' brief scenes are the most welcome in the movie, and they could have made a really funny adventure story. But we're stuck with the tame animals-go-to-the-wild story, and we get very little return. Along the way, there's some fairly funny movie spoofs. I really, really wanted to love the movie. I just didn't.

This film comes at the right time, with no family releases out at the moment. So, I believe the interest in this film will be skewed to the point that this will easily be a big hit. I just wonder what it would do with competition. I think we would see the first chink in the armor for 3-D animation, and we'd see that story indeed trumps style. Robots was pretty close to proving that in March, but it was released under the same circumstances. So, we'll have to wait to see if that theory is true.


At 5/27/2005 04:00:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Judging from the previews I've seen, the penguins do seem like the funniest part of the movie. I always forget that Dreamworks did "Antz," which I actually did like quite a bit. I liked it a lot more than the "Shrek" movies, and the less said about "Shark Tale" the better. "Antz" might very well be the best Woody Allen movie to come out in the past ten years; of course he didn't actually direct it, but that's semantics, people.


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