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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Madagascar
Universal // PG // November 15, 2005
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted November 28, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
Not-so-wild animals on the loose

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Cartoons
Likes: Good CG animation, Chris Rock
Dislikes: David Schwimmer

The Movie
When I saw the trailer for Madagascar, I can't say I was too enthused. I'm not the biggest Ben Stiller fan and I could do without David Schwimmer. Plus, I was just about burnt out on Chris Rock, and have no real opinion on Jada Pinkett-Smith. So I skipped seeing the movie and figured I would wait until it came out on video. I can't say I'm beating myself over the decision, but I could have given the movie more of a chance. If only they had told me about the supporting cast...

Stiller gives voice to Alex the lion, the star of the show at the Central Park Zoo. Alex is living the good life, with his friends Marty the zebra (Rock), Gloria the hippo (Smith) and Melman, a hypochondriac giraffe, getting pampered and fed, while performing for adoring crowds a couple of times a day. Marty apparently doesn't realize how good he has it, and dreams of being free in the wild, where he can romp and gallop to his hearts content. Instead, he runs on a treadmill in New York City.

Driven by his desire to be "free," Marty sets into motion an ill-conceived plan that gets him, and his buddies, shipped to Africa. Having been cooped up in a zoo all their lives, they are more city folk than "wild," and have a tough time adjusting to freedom. It gets worse when they find themselves in the middle of trouble between the lemurs, led by batty King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen, "Da Ali G Show"), and some jackyl-like creatures called Foosas. That's when Alex gets in touch with his animal side, which causes all kinds of problems.

The movie is, for the most part, a fun adventure through an exotic jungle landscape, as these Seinfeldian animals try not to be fish out of water. That they fail again and again just makes for more enjoyment, which is helped along by King Julien and his aide, Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer.) There's some moralish subplotting about being yourself and enjoying your place in the world, but Madagascar is really just a good time at its core. The story doesn't get too complicated, and there are plenty of references to TV shows and movies throughout to keep adults interested.

Though the stars are the reason why most adults will be willing to watch this film, the fringe players are usual the most entertaining parts of the movie, starting with the penguins, who act as an elite paramilitary unit, which stands in stark comparison to their "cute and cuddly" look. They aren't the only ones trading on cuteness, as Mason the chimp (an educated, yet poo-flinging mammal) and Andy Richter's furry little lemur Mort steal the scenes they are in.

One of the more striking aspects of this film is the art style, which doesn't even try for the realism so many CG animated movies pride themselves on. Instead, the look is highly stylized and similar in many ways to older cel-animated cartoons like the old Tex Avery shows, with exaggerated motion and hyper-violence. It's a unique way to create something new out of what has become a somewhat generic-looking genre.

Madagascar is a one-disc DVD, packaged in an insert-less standard keepcase. The disc features animated, anamorphic widescreen menus, starting with the main menu, which offers a number of options, including play the movie, view special features, crack the code, Dreamworks KIDS!!!, audio and subtitle setups, a scene index and the Penguins short film. Audio choices include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish 2.0, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish, along with English closed captioning. The scene selection menu has animated previews for each chapter.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks gorgeous, which is exactly how all computer-generated animation should look. There's no dirt, no grain and certainly no damage. What is a bit odd is the softness of the overall image. There's some talk on the DVD that the amount of fuzzy characters was difficult to work with, so perhaps they lowered the sharpness to make it easier. Either way, the disc looks very nice, with bright colors, good detail and not a spot of digital artifacts.

The audio, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, is appropriate for this film, as it's lively and energetic, but it doesn't take full advantage of the soundfield. There's some sound in the surrounds every now and then, enhancing music and sound effects, but when you are working in the jungle, it should sound immense. The sound that's provided is crisp and clean throughout, delivering the film's dialogue and soundtrack well.

The Extras
The bonus material on this DVD falls firmly into two groups, one for film fans and one for the kids in the audience. For cinephiles, the big extra is the feature-length audio commentary by directors Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell. As is the tradition with computer animation, the track includes a tremendous amount of information about the film's production, while also touching on the script and acting performances. If you were interested in finding out more about the movie, the commentary is worth a listen.

A handful of featurettes take you behind the scenes, including "Behind the Crates," the usual fluffy, studio-produced look at the making of the movie, a "Mad Mishaps" animation "gag" reel, "Meet the Wild Cast," which focuses on the actors involved, and "The Tech of Madagascar." The Tech featurette is nearly insulting, as it is obviously intended to promote HP computers, while showing a bit of the making of the movie. A better piece is found in "Enchanted Island," which explores the real Madagascar, and its influence on the movie.

Three user-navigated image galleries wrap up the adult side of the extras, each of which has a number of sublevels, which contain a total of 312 concept paintings and sketches from the film's creation. A slate of text extras are also found on this disc, covering the cast, filmmakers and production notes, along with some Dreamworks trailers.

Straddling the line between film fan- and child- friendly are the penguins bonuses. A commentary by the penguins on their scenes in the film is not funny enough for the film fans and not cute enough for kids. A better time is had watching the penguins in "A Christmas Caper," a 12-minute short film that was shown in theaters. It's a cute little flick that will be fun for anyone who enjoyed the flightless birds in the feature film.

The rest of the extras are purely for kids, starting with the music video for King Julien's "I Like to Move It, Move It" song. It's mostly reused animation, but kids may like hearing the full-length song. Popping the disc into a DVD-ROM drive provides several printables with the film's characters, including bookmarks, calendars and stationary, and some Web links, connecting to the film's official site and a Penguin webcam.

Back on the DVD, six games and activities are available. They are all rather simple, and will appeal mainly to children. Games include a preview of the Madagascar DVD Trivia Game, a whack-a-mole game featuring the film's foosas, a lemur matching game, a random choice game and a simple "Simon"-like game. There's also a "learn to draw" section that shows how to draw the main characters.

If you've got some spare time, there's a code-cracking game featuring the penguins with clues that pop up on a few of the menus. Submit the code, and you can play an additional maze game with the penguins.

On the Hunt
There's at least one Easter Egg on this DVD, which reveals a technical reel.

The Bottom Line
For some reason, while Disney keeps relying on rehashing old stories, Dreamworks (and Pixar of course) is able to create what can be described as "new classics." Madagascar has the timeless feel of a child's storybook, while still providing entertainment for the adults in the room, including a ton of pop-culture references. The DVD looks and sounds great, while providing a decent amount of extras, even if most are more child-friendly than fan-friendly. Computer animation fans and those who enjoy fun family fare will not be disappointed by this movie, but don't expect a laugh-out-loud experience like Shrek. This is closer in tone to Shark Tale...just better.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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