Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 10, 2014)
After a string of hits, 2005’s Madagascar reinforced DreamWorks animation’s place as a major player in the animation world. With the Shrek flicks, they established themselves as heavy hitters, and 2004’s Shark Tale proved they could have a hit with an animated offering that didn’t feature a fat ogre or two.
Madagascar continued that trend and demonstrated that Shark Tale wasn’t a fluke. Despite less than glowing reviews, the movie found a big audience at the theaters. It displayed excellent legs at the box office and ended up with a gross of about $193 million.
Madagascar introduces to the inhabitants of New York’s Central Park Zoo. We meet “king of the city” Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), a lion who stars at the zoo and loves his job. We also encounter his zebra buddy Marty (Chris Rock) as well as sassy hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer), some sophisticated chimps and some insurrectionist penguins.
On his tenth birthday, Marty finds himself in a midlife crisis and bored with the old routine. He learns that the penguins plan to escape and return to their natural habitat, and that inspires his own flights of fancy. Marty gets the idea he can return to nature in Connecticut, so he escapes and plans to take the train there from Grand Central Station.
Alex and the others pursue him. As one might expect, all these animals on the loose causes a ruckus even in blasé Manhattan. The authorities round up the critters at Grand Central.
However, they don’t return to the zoo. Animal rights activists think their behavior signals a desire to escape the confines of that environment, so all the animals involved – a group that includes the penguins and chimps as well – get put on a boat headed for a reserve in Kenya.
This doesn’t sit well with the crafty penguins so they stage a coup and take over the ship. Along the way, the crates in which our four leads reside get knocked off-board, and they all end up stuck on an island.
Initially they believe they’re in the San Diego Zoo, but they soon discover the truth when they meet the resident lemurs and their leader, King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen). The rest of the movie follows the New York animals’ attempts to adapt as well as deal with the locals. Carnivorous Alex’s inability to find suitable cuisine also causes problems when he starts to view his pals as steaks.
When I saw a number of bad reviews for Madagascar, I can’t say I felt surprised. Its trailers made it look iffy at best and dreadful at worst, so I went into it with low expectations. I only decided to review the release because of the film’s popularity; it was too successful for me to ignore it.
Imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed the movie. Perhaps this happened because of those low expectations, as I suspect if I’d anticipated something more enjoyable I might’ve felt less interested. Whatever the case, an entertaining viewing is an entertaining viewing, and that’s what I got from Madagascar.
Unlike many of its brethren, at least Madagascar doesn’t beat us over the head with constant pop culture references or non-stop gags. I don’t know if I’d call it character-based, but it seems much less frenetic than many of its peers.
Perhaps that’s because flicks like Robots, Chicken Little and Shark Tale take place in fantasy urban environments. Those entice the filmmakers to pour on puns and plays on words. Since Madagascar stays in New York or an island, none of those opportunities occur – and I’m happy about that.
Much of the humor comes from the performances of the actors. Despite heavy hitters like Rock and Stiller in the leads, most of the amusement stems from the secondary characters. Co-director Tom McGrath does a wonderfully dry Charlton Heston take on the lead penguin; he makes all those scenes a delight. Cohen also pulls out a nicely goofy and egotistical turn on Julien; he remains a caricature, but he’s a fun one. The leads don’t do anything particularly wrong with their work, but they don’t add much to the personalities either.
In the end, Madagascar stands as a perfectly enjoyable movie, though not a particularly memorable one. I liked the 86 minutes I spent with it but don’t expect it’ll resonate with me or I’ll feel terribly compelled to watch it again anytime soon. It’s basic entertainment.
Madagascar appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. No problems materialized in this appealing presentation.
Sharpness looked amazing. At all times, it boasted concise, detailed images without a hint of softness. I also noticed no jagged edges, shimmering, or edge enhancement. Try to find any source flaws and you’ll fail, for the transfer always looked clean and fresh.
With its jungle settings and other natural landscapes, Madagascar boasted a wide palette of colors. From start to finish, the disc replicated them with terrific vivacity and liveliness. The tones were consistently vibrant and dynamic; they leapt off the screen at times. Blacks were tight and dense, while shadows looked smooth and clean. This was a truly excellent transfer.
Although the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Madagascar didn’t live up to those levels, it worked just fine. No issues related to quality occurred. Speech was always natural and concise, with good intelligibility and no edginess or brittleness. Effects were detailed and accurate. They presented nice range and heft when appropriate. Music seemed bouncy and lively as well, and the score also showed good warmth.
The soundfield was good but unexceptional. Much of the time it concentrated on general ambience, though some scenes kicked into higher gear. Scenes on the boat or during a storm were involving, and a few other action-oriented bits also came to life well. These weren’t frequent elements, though, so expect a track that stayed moderately subdued much of the time. Nonetheless, it was active enough to merit a “B+”, and the soundscape seemed more than suitable for this flick.
How did the Blu-ray compare with those of the original DVD? Audio seemed richer and fuller, while visuals came across as tighter and more vivid. The Blu-ray delivered a clear improvement over the DVD.
Heading to the extras, we open with an audio commentary from directors Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell. Both sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. They discuss basics such as visual design, casting and working with the actors, animation specifics and challenges, and story development and changes.
Darnell and McGrath cover a variety of rudimentary topics with decent exposition and that’s about it. We end up with some decent information but nothing terribly memorable. Though intermittently useful, the commentary just seems too dull to succeed.
New to the Blu-ray, Mad Trivia Pop-Up presents the expected text track. It covers movie-making elements, facts about animals, locations and other facets of the story, and general trivia. The pop-ups appear frequently and add enough info to make this a fun, useful piece.
For a mini-commentary we go to Penguin Chat. This eight-minute and 43-second clip includes in-character comments from Skipper, Kowalski and Private. Though the penguins provide some of the movie’s most amusing moments, this isn’t a terribly entertaining piece. It has some mildly funny comments but never quite lives up to its potential.
Animation goof-ups appear in the 90-second Mad Mishaps. This showcases a number of rendering problems. We’ve seen similar features on other discs. These are freaky and moderately interesting.
We get a look at the actors during the seven-minute and 47-second Meet the Wild Cast. It presents comments from Darnell, McGrath, producer Mireille Soria, head of character animation Rex Grignon, character TD co-supervisor Rob Vogt, production designer Kendal Cronkhite, and actors Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Chris Miller, Cedric the Entertainer and Andy Richter. They chat about the characters and we also get a few notes about animation and performances. Don’t expect much of that material, though, as this program mostly acts as a promotional recap to entice folks to see the movie. It’s not very interesting.
The disc’s most substantial featurette, Behind the Crates goes for 23 minutes and 16 seconds. It offers the usual mix of behind the scenes bits, movie clips and interviews. We get remarks from McGrath, Darnell, Stiller, Rock, Smith, Soria, Schwimmer, Richter, Cedric, Cronkhite, Vogt, Grignon, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, lead character design Craig Kellman, art director Shannon Jeffries, character TD co-supervisor Milana Huang, model maker Facundo Rabaudi, animator Nick Craven, visual FX supervisor Philippe Gluckman, coproducer Teresa Cheng, head of FX Scott Singer, and actor Conrad Vernon.
We get a story/character recap and then find notes about the movie’s look and design, the animation style, creating the art and bringing the roles to life, recording the vocal performances, and effects animation. The show acts as a minor glimpse of the various issues. It remains relentlessly promotional, as it gives us quick tidbits but nothing that adds up to much depth. At least it renders the “Wild Cast” featurette superfluous, as it covers the same information here.
More information pops up in the four-minute and 59-second The Tech of Madagascar. We hear from Darnell, Gluckman, Grignon, Singer, McGrath, head of global FX Nick Foster, director of research and development Jim Mainard, and chief technology officer Ed Leonard. As expected, they delve into the issues involved in creating the CG animation. Some of this appears elsewhere, and the show’s too short for much real information, but it acts as a good overview.
Next comes the seven-minute and 50-second Enchanted Island. It includes comments from Katzenberg, Darnell, Rabaudi, Stiller, Soria, and Conservation International president Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier. This features a few notes about the real Madagascar, but then it quickly degenerates into another promotional piece to tout the movie. It repeats movie-related information found elsewhere, so we don’t get much fresh material.
One big attraction on this disc will be a once-exclusive cartoon. Called The Penguins in A Christmas Caper, it fills 12 minutes and eight seconds. In it, the Private tries to help spread some Christmas cheer. When he goes missing, the others search for him. It’s an amusing piece.
Under the “DreamWorks Kids” banner we find a few additional components. A music video for “I Like to Move It, Move It” runs two minutes and 50 seconds. It runs the tune from the flick over dancing footage of the characters. Yeah, it’s as boring as it sounds.
I suppose Learn to Draw should be self-explanatory. It leads kids step-by-step through the methods to draw Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman. Maybe that’ll be fun for some.
The disc opens with an ad for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and additional promos show up in the DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox. No trailer for the original Madagascar appears here.
No one will mistake Madagascar for a great animated movie, but that shouldn’t negate its pleasures. The film manages just enough fun and entertainment to work. The Blu-ray offers excellent picture along with solid audio and some informatuve bonus materials. This ends up as a strong release for an enjoyable movie.
To rate this film, visit the 2006 DVD review of MADAGASCAR