Not-so-wild animals on the loose
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.
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.
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
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