In late 2003, I took a trip to New York City and had an absolutely wonderful time. The Fall weather was beautiful, I found a good (and cheap) hotel and for the next four days, was free to wander my way around the city and I loved every single minute of it. The first day, I left my hotel at 50th and 10th at 6:30am, walked all the way down to Battery Park, all the way back up to Grand Central and then up to Central Park Zoo. While certainly on the smaller side, the Zoo is quite beautiful and well-kept.
The Central Park Zoo is the setting for "Madagascar", the latest CGI animated feature from Dreamworks ("Shrek", "Shark Tale" - thankfully, this is far better than "Shark Tale"), which focuses on the animals of the zoo. There's lion Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith). When Marty hits his 10th birthday, he sees the zoo's penguins plan a breakout in an attempt to get back to their natural habitat. Inspired by their quest for freedom, Marty breaks out the next night.
The inhabitants mount a rescue mission, and manage to catch up to Marty at Grand Central (a better choice than Penn Station.) The police end up catching everyone - including a band of chimps. However, animal rights activists protest that this is an example of why animals should not be in captivity. All of the animals wake up the next day thinking they're being transfered to another zoo - when in reality, they're on a ship to Africa.
The crafty penguins attempt to take control of the situation, but end up sending the animal crates overboard, and Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman find themselves washed up on Madagascar, which is populated in the film largely by lemurs, including King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen). Conflict comes up when Alex starts to revert back to his jungle ways, and starts viewing his friends as breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"Madagascar" starts off in rather slow and ordinary fashion, but once the animals make their breakout, things start rolling along nicely. The culture clash moments between the animals and the lemur tribe are also pretty amusing. The animation quality is not up to what audiences have seen in some other recent animated features, but it's at least got its own rather unique style. Voice work, especially by Rock and Stiller, is fine, as well. There's definitely a few slow moments throughout and having someone come in to punch up some of the jokes wouldn't have hurt, but overall, "Madagascar" is generally pretty amusing.
VIDEO: "Madagascar" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Dreamworks. While the film's CG animation is not as detailed as some other recent features, the film's presentation here is certainly first-rate. Sharpness and detail are absolutely first-rate, as the presentation looked absolutely razor-sharp throughout the show.
No edge enhancement was seen, nor were any instances of pixelation, print flaws or shimmering. The presentation looked smooth and crisp, with no issues. Colors remained bright and vibrant, with no smearing or other problems. Overall, "Madagascar" looked absolutely gorgeous.
SOUND: "Madagascar" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Dreamworks. The audio presentation was less impressive than the video, as the sound remained fairly tame throughout the show. Surrounds occasionally added some minor details and ambience, but opportunities to give the jungle more ambience and atmosphere didn't happen. The majority of the audio remained up front, and audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: The main supplement is a commentary from directors Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell, a short commentary from the Penguin characters for their scenes (not as funny as one would hope), animation bloopers, four "making of" featurettes ("Behind the Crates", "Meet the Wild Cast", "Tech of Madagascar" and "Enchanted Island"), production notes and bios. Also included is the new animated short "Christmas Caper", starring the penguin characters, and the "I Like to Move It, Move It" music video, as well as a section of interactive games/activities.
Final Thoughts: "Madagascar" has some clever moments and fun gags, but it's also got a few slow stretches. Still, a pretty amusing picture overall, with good voice work. Dreamworks provides a fine DVD, with excellent video quality, fine audio and a nice helping of supplements. Recommended.