A disappointing entry in the family-film CGI sweepstakes
This is a disappointing CGI family film, even by the diminished standards of ROBOTS. The character design is ugly; the main characters are often annoying; the humor is generally weak; and the computer-generated animation is soulless. Easily the best part of MADAGASCAR is a subplot involving four penguins who operate like a slightly paranoid but very effective group of underground-resistance freedom fighters. They get the best laughs; their scenes are the most suspenseful; and the film often feels lethargic when they are off-screen (which is too much of the time).
The basic story follows a zebra who wants to go to the wild; he gets his wish, along with his unwilling friends, a lion, a hippo, and a giraffe. Once there, of course, the great outdoors turns out to be not so great. In one of the film’s best non-penguin scenes, our heroes watch in horror as a series of cute little cartoon animals are ruthlessly devoured by vicious predators — a disturbing piece of black comedy. Even worse, the lion begins to feel the call of the wild — which could, theoretically, lead to his attacking (and eating) his former friends.
If this sounds like grim stuff, rest assured it is all played for easy, nonthreatening laughs. The script mostly tries to power itself by focusing on whether the friendships of the four zoo animals will endure in the wild; the more unsavory elements are thrown in as plot complications that are all-too-easily swept under the rug. Thankfully, when this starts to run out of gas, the penguins show up in Madagascar (having decided that Antarctica sucks!), and things pick up a bit at the end.
Strangely, MADAGASCAR’s biggest surprise occurs not in the story but in the credits where we see the names of screenwriters Karey Kirkpatrick (CHICKEN RUN) and Ted Tally (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) listed as “consultants.” Presumably Tally was responsible for the film’s “cannibal” humor, which shows Alex the lion visualizing his friends as walking steaks — and occasionally sinking his teeth into them.
MADAGASCAR(2005). Directed by Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath. Written by Mark Burton & Billy Frolick and Darnel & McGrath. Voices: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer.
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