By Pete Croatto
It's a testament to how great animated filmmaking has become that Madagascar is just a pretty good movie. If it had been released in 1995, audiences would have been stunned at the animation, the storyline, and the fun celebrity voices. Now, it's been-there-done-that and, "Oh, when is Shrek 3 coming out?" and consistent, legitimate Oscar talk for Pixar.
Of course, there are worst ways to spend your Memorial Day weekend than to share in the adventures of four wild animals at the Central Park Zoo. The zoo's star, Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), is a headlining lion who loves being the limelight. His best friend, Marty (Chris Rock), a zebra, yearns to go beyond the zoo's walls and return to the wild. At the duo's side is boisterous, level-headed hippo, Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer).
On his 10th birthday, a middle-aged Marty gets those wandering pangs and embarks to Grand Central Station, where he can go the wilds of Connecticut. The three friends chase him down, leading to a police standoff and exile from the zoo's cushy comforts to the arid temperatures of Kenya. On the boat ride there, a fight between Alex and Marty causes the friends' four crates to go overboard. They don't go far, washing up on the jungle paradise of Madagascar. Marty gets his wish and Alex learns about his predatory instincts, while a village of lemurs decide whether to trust these "New York Giants."
Madagascar is a pleasant, comfortable movie because so much of it is familiar. The pursuit of Marty through New York City feels like the latter half of Toy Story 2, and the script's constant reliance on pop culture references, while clever, harkens back to the days of Reebok pumps and Aladdin. Rock and Stiller don't give their characters distinctive voices; instead, we get treated to their well-worn personas (Stiller's faux intensity, Rock's wise-ass rants). Rock is an especially bad choice. He would be great for the motor-mouthed, wise-talking Marty, if he could use his incendiary and profane stand-up material. We don't get Hard Rock here, but a heaping portion of Light Rock (Down to Earth, Lethal Weapon 4, etc.). That's not good, though Smith, Schwimmer, and Sacha Baron Cohen (TV's Ali G) are.
Another hindrance is the apparent influence of DreamWorks SKG's marketing department. The lemur with the eyes like saucers is adorable. The four cute penguins who behave like a group of well-trained terrorists are a bit much, especially since their segment is lame. I'll allow only one plush toy opportunity. Bad voice work and cute critters don't keep the movie from achieving anything beyond "amusing" status. Madagascar is simply a victim of the genre's success. Ever since Pixar started its genius reign with Toy Story and DreamWorks launched Shrek, more is expected. The animation must dazzle. The story must be memorable. The characters must not be based on schtick. 1995 is long gone, and so are that year's standards.
Smile for the camera.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 27th May 2005
Box Office Worldwide: $532.7M
Distributed by: Dreamworks
Production compaines: DreamWorks Animation, DreamWorks SKG, Pacific Data Images (PDI)
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Fresh: 102 Rotten: 83
Cast & Crew
Starring: Ben Stiller as Alex, Chris Rock as Marty, David Schwimmer as Melman, Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria, Sacha Baron Cohen as Julien, Paco León as como Alex, Cedric the Entertainer as Maurice, Andy Richter as Mort, Tom McGrath as Skipper / Fossa / Panicky Man on Subway, Christopher Knights as Private, Chris Miller as Kowalski, Conrad Vernon as Mason, Eric Darnell as Zoo Announcer / Lemur #1 / Fossa / Subway Car Announcer, David Cowgill as Police Horse, David Cowgill as Police Officer, Elisa Gabrielli as Old Lady