Saturday, June 2, 2012

Madagascar - I Can't Quite Move It, Move It

As mentioned before in this blog's review of Men in Black, the summer lineup of 2012 is riddled with Hollywood sequels, one of which is Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. Having seen the previous two movies at a younger age, I've decided that I might as well see the third one anyway. To get to that point however, I've started watching the prequels so that I may have my memory refreshed. After watching Madagascar again however, I'm worried that maybe it wasn't such a good idea.

Life is great in the Central Park Zoo as Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) celebrates his tenth birthday with his friends Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith). Throughout the day Marty ponders what life would be like away from his pampered lifestyle in the zoo and instead out in the wild. After escaping for Grand Central Station at night to get to the land of Connecticut, believing he'll find the wide-open spaces he desires there, his friends go off in search of him and arrive at the station just in time to intercept his attempt to get a ticket. Unfortunately for them they all end up getting hit with tranquilizer darts so that they may be shipped off to a wildlife preserve in Kenya. On the bridge of the ship however, the penguins Skipper (Tom McGrath), Rico (John DiMaggio), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Private (Christopher Knights), who also got caught in the escape attempt, manage to take control of the ship to try and get to Antarctica, inadvertently sending Marty and friends overboard. The four animals wind up on the shores of Madagascar, where they must learn to cope with the wild in their quest to go back home.

The story seems to mainly be about two things. First, it has a theme of trying to figure out your place in the world, in this case whether they belong in the zoo or the wild. Marty is the one who instigates this portion of the plot when he wonders if maybe the grass is greener somewhere else, which of course doesn't settle with his friends at first before and after they land on the island. Gradually though, they come to like some things about the wild and end up enjoying their stay. The other thing the movie is about comes into play here, which is a theme of friendship. Alex the lion is the most stubborn of the four, having been accustomed to his previous lifestyle and an endless supply of steak. While he does warm up to Madagascar eventually, his friendship with Marty is truly tested when his animal instincts come forth while under a withdrawal from steak. His actions during this time, including biting Marty and imagining everyone as a steak, cause him to exile himself to a part of the island filled with fossa. During an attempt to retrieve him when the penguin-piloted boat reaches shore, he finally overcomes his feelings about himself and saves his friends from attacking fossa. His arc is concluded when they figure out that fish is a reasonable substitute for Alex to eat in place of steaks.

Based simply on these two themes, the movie does get its job done and is sound in concluding just about every plot thread. Structurally however, Madagascar begins to fall apart in a couple of places. Some logistical errors are present, like the fact that lemurs in the untamed wild seem to know what a steak is or how exactly Marty is able to develop a full lever and pulley system on the beach with only his hooves. In addition, the common elements of a Dreamworks movie are present in a way as to hurt the overall product. There's the numerous pop culture references, including an iconic scene from Planet of the Apes, that some random child viewers aren't very likely to understand, which begs the question of why they even bothered with them besides just doing it because they could. These references extend to using many familiar musical cues, at least to adults, even when they don't seem to fit, like when Marty rides with dolphins to get to the sandy beach of Madagascar while the Hawaii Five-O theme plays in the background.

Then there's the humor in the movie. I will say that overall, the movie can be really funny in places, especially if it involves the actions of the penguins or King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) of the indigenous population of lemurs. Scenes with them are often the most humorous, which is probably what led to them being popular enough to not only show up in the sequel, but also the spin-off Nickelodeon television series The Penguins of Madagascar. Contrast this however with the sprinkled in scatological jokes, which seem to be standard fare for a movie like this (because kids love it!).

Technically speaking, Madagascar doesn't seem to hold up as well as it probably did back then. The ocean, especially the most voluminous parts, look more like sculpted plastic than actual water and the CG seems more primitive nowadays, though these were probably more impressive when they first came out; I'm not quite sure since I didn't really care in the far off year of 2005. It also seemed a little bothersome as well how the art style for the movie makes the nostrils of the characters more prominent, as well as the fact that Alex's paws are as big as his head.

If there's one thing I can say about this movie, it would be that the voice acting is actually pretty good. Chris Rock and Ben Stiller bounce off each other nicely and Sacha Baron Cohen shows that he can actually do a decent job at voicing a literal party animal. I also enjoyed hearing whatever the penguins had to say, since their contrasting personalities and voices form part of the glue that makes the film watchable. Hans Zimmer's score, when actually present, does a good job at setting the tone of each scene and, while not exactly memorable, shows that he has great talent in his field. The famous cover of Reel 2 Reel's I Like to Move It, performed by Cohen, is also incredibly catchy.

Overall, Madagascar is just alright. While the movie can be really funny and display some interesting character development at times, the common Dreamworks elements serve to get in the way of making the whole picture enjoyable, making the presentation more confused in what it's trying to be. If you want to watch something with kids around and they laugh easily, then Madagascar is for you, unless you just want to watch the scenes with Julien or the penguins.

Next week, we'll look at Madgascar: Escape 2 Africa.

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