In most cases, the Memorial Day weekend is thought of as the debut of the Summer Movie Season. This year, the debut came a little earlier of course, thanks to Mr. Lucas. That of course, meant that Memorial Day at the cinema felt somewhat anti-climactic, even with the arrival of new movies.
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One such new movie is Madagascar, the latest computer animated effort from DreamWorks. Madagascar looked pretty good from the trailer, which promised a certain level of hilarity. Does it deliver?
Not quite. Madagascar is funny. There's no doubt about that. If you liked the Shrek Movies or The Incredibles or even Shark Tale, you will find something to enjoy about Madagascar. However, Madagascar is funny, not hilarious. It will provoke some guffaws and chuckles. But very few flat out hysterics the way the Shrek films did.
The Shrek films worked well as family films that could appeal to the whole family, yet featured moments of spoofery that held a certain amount of appeal for adults attending them alone. There is some of that spoofery apparent in Madagascar (IE: A potshot at Tom Wolfe, a few jokes about socialized medicine and racial profiling). Yet the bulk of the humor in Madagascar is of the cheap, slapstick, board in the crotch variety. Another element borrowed from the Shrek universe is the inclusion of various pop culture references, a few of which will be beyond the level of arcane by the time Madagascar reaches the shelves of Blockbuster.
The plot of Madagascar is fairly simple. Marty (voice of Chris Rock) is a zebra at the New York City Zoo. A zebra with a severe case of cabin fever. Alex (Ben Stiller) is his vain Lion buddy and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) is the token female, a hippo in this case. There is also Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer). All of them (aside from Marty) are content with their lot in life as the zoo's star attractions. But Marty wants to get out and see what life's like in the wild (Connecticut he thinks). So he escapes one night. His friends take off in pursuit and it's here that we get many of the film's best moments, such as a few non PC digs at New York Cops and Mayor Bloomberg (referred to as the big man). The first half of the story (the New York part) in fact, sets a standard that the second half can't quite measure up to.
After an incident at Grand Central, the main characters find themselves first on a ship and then on the titular island. It's at the point of their arrival on Madagascar that the story becomes much more ordinary although there are still some clever moments.
The bulk of the humor that isn't slapstick related in Madagascar comes from the interplay between Rock and Stiller. Rock (whom I always preferred in his stand-up form over his acting) gives Marty the right level of humor and humanity. Stiller works well as the egomaniacal carnivore Alex. Smith and Schwimmer are both pretty good as well. Schwimmer in particular proves he can be funny when the character is written that way.
By far however, the funniest characters in Madagascar are the penguins. Moving from spoofing mobsters one moment to the Bush cabinet the next, they provide many of the movie's best laughs. In fact, I'd suggest that a movie featuring them be produced as soon as possible.
So yes, Madagascar does have enough funny moments to justify seeing it, even if you don't have kids. However, it seems to be made more with kids in mind than with whole families, the way the aforementioned Shrek films were. Perhaps DreamWorks meant this deliberately in response to criticism that Shark Tale was too adult oriented in its mob movie spoofs. The animation is quite good (albeit not outstanding) and the film can be watched by kids from about 7 or so up (a few possibly frightening scenes make it questionable for the youngest audiences).
No, Madagascar isn't a masterpiece. It's not going to go down as a classic on par with a few certain other films I mentioned. But in a summer that's shaping up to be a fairly creative wasteland, it's good to get started off with one that's funny and entertaining for the whole family. So yes, Madagascar is definitely worth your time.
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