Madagascar (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Eventually, it had to happen: a computer-animated dud. It's surprising it has taken this long, and we have been spoiled by the high quality of the product, with such winning titles as Toy Story, Shrek, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and others. But, with the death of traditional animation and the proliferation of titles in this arena, a slip in quality was inevitable. Thus far, 2005 has seen two of these movies: Robots and Madagascar. And, although Robots was mediocre entertainment, Madagascar slips a notch below that.

This new Dreamworks film, from one of the directors of Antz, is suitable for family viewing, but will likely hold the attention of kids more firmly than adults. Despite the occasionally amusing line or instance of innuendo, there's not much here for a mature audience, and that's one of Madagascar's failings. It's hard to see this movie appealing to the same broad audience as one of the productions cited in the above paragraph. This feels more like a "filler" than a cornerstone animated release, yet Dreamworks is putting it into theaters in the heat of the early summer season (when it will go up head-to-head against the last Star Wars film, in theaters less than two weeks). That's an aggressive strategy for a weak picture.

The story is a thin excuse to put some cuddly animated animals on screen. At New York's Central Park zoo, Alex the Lion (voice of Ben Stiller) is the star attraction. His best friend, Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), is tired of captivity, and dreams of running free in the wild. When opportunity allows Marty to escape, Alex proceeds into Manhattan in pursuit. With him are Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith). The animals are captured and, after being deemed too dangerous for captivity, shipped off to an animal preserve in Kenya. On the way, however, the boat is hijacked by penguins bound for Antarctica, who drop our intrepid quartet off at Madagascar. There, they are befriended by a tribe of lemurs and Alex begins to go savage when his daily diet of steaks is denied to him.

The animation and vocal work in Madagascar are as disappointing as the screenplay. While there's nothing wrong with the computer visuals, they are a step back from some of Dreamworks' recent efforts. Background detail isn't as rich and there's an exaggeratedly cartoonish appearance to the animals. They look computer-generated and "blocky." The characters in the traditionally animated The Lion King looked better. Meanwhile, the voices are non-descript. With the possible exceptions of Chris Rock and Cedric the Entertainer (as one of the lemurs), the creatures inhabiting this movie could have been voiced by almost anyone.

Madagascar will make money because parents are always on the look-out for "safe" family films, and, in general, animated fare meets that criterion. The problem here is that, while there's nothing offensive about this movie, it's not especially entertaining. I often gauge how compelling a motion picture is by how many times I glance at my watch. With Madagascar, that number was higher than it should be for a film with such a short (85-minute) running length. With so many other options available at this time of the year, my advice is to give this movie a pass in theaters and rent it when it's available on video. At least then, if you or the kids get bored through the long stretches in which nothing happens, the fast-forward button is close at hand.

Madagascar (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2005-05-27
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1