Madagascar taught us all how to move it, move it. After the embarrassment of Shark Tale, DreamWorks Animation went back to ripping off Disney before their version came out. The difference being the fact that the 2005 Madagascar was vastly superior to the 2006 Disney film The Wild. Both computer animated movies are about a group of Central Park Zoo animals that end up in the wild where wacky hijinks ensue. Although it seems like Madagascar isn’t at fault for coming out first, some Disney executives claim it was corporate espionage. I wasn’t sure how to react to Madagascar since I’d never even heard of the African country.
I still knew I wanted to see it since DreamWorks movies are always a blast and I couldn’t say no to talking animals. Madagascar has been a favorite of mine ever since my dad took my brother and I to see it when I was 9 years old. The DVD was filled with plenty of fun extras and I even played the tie-in video game. I enjoyed Madagascar so much that I didn’t even notice how mixed the reviews were. Despite the reception and lack of Best Animated Feature nomination, Madagascar was a definite financial hit that launched the second longest running DreamWorks franchise after Shrek…
Madagascar was actually pretty different compared to other DreamWorks movies. The inviting computer animation is much more cartoony with genuine slapstick for the kids. The adult innuendos are still present, but they were becoming less of a necessity. Although Madagascar was still filled with pop culture references and mostly infrequent gross out gags. They also continue to give older songs newfound success. “I Like to Move It” by Reel 2 Real practically exploded in popularity thanks to Madagascar. Regardless of how the story ended up, Madagascar is really a winner thanks to the chemistry of its unique cast of animals. The Central Park Zoo houses a variety of familiar animals.
The movie begins with Marty the zebra fantasizing about being in the wild. Chris Rock’s crackalackin brand of comedy means Marty is definitely black with white stripes. He’s just not as over-the-top as you’d expect Rock to be. One of the most unlikely DreamWorks friendships is between predator and prey. Alex is a lion who loves to entertain and hasn’t known anything other than his zoo lifestyle. Ben Stiller is usually pretty deadpan, but he’s also known for ending up in a lot of crazy situations. So Stiller is perfect for the high energy Alex. Although Madagascar is mostly about Alex & Marty’s friendship, they have two other animal friends by their side as well.
The very petite Jada Pinkett Smith voices the voluptuous hippo Gloria. She’s very caring and motherly to the group, but she has her sassy side as well. David Schwimmer was just the kind of lanky actor suited to voice a giraffe like Melman. His quirk is being a hypochondriac obsessed with staying healthy. Together the New York lion, zebra, hippo, and giraffe play off each other well. Although I wouldn’t call it an anthropomorphic animal movie, the animals do stand up in a very animated way. They’re definitely cartoons, not meant to look realistic. Animals look like they’re talking to humans, but all they hear are animal sounds. Humans are similarly stylized for the first time in a computer animated DreamWorks film. Other animals include the intelligent chimp Mason and his sign languaging companion Phil.
The biggest scene stealers are easily the penguins. Madagascar helped encourage the 2000’s penguin craze since it was released the same year as March of the Penguins. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private are all voiced by crew members. They resemble a slap happy military unit that’s extra hilarious due to the fact that they’re cute & cuddly penguins. Skipper is the determined leader, Kowalski is the right hand, Rico is the silent tool specialist, and Private takes most of the slaps. They were so popular that they starred in a funny Christmas short called The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper. If they seem a little out of place, it’s because they were originally meant for a movie about a penguin rock band called Rockumentary. Skipper inspires Marty to flee to the wild, but his friends prefer living in the zoo. When Marty goes off on his own, Alex, Gloria, and Melman find themselves in Grand Central Station with very casual New Yorkers. Apart from an old lady who very humorously beats up Alex.
When the animals are tranquilized in a trippy sequence, they’re all sent away on a ship to Africa. Except that a fight ends up sending all their crates to the titular island of Madagascar. The penguins take the ship to Antarctica, but they realize it sucks there. The stranded animals all react to the wild differently with Alex desperate to leave and Marty wanting to stay. Madagascar is either depicted as a beautiful landscape or a horrible deathtrap. The island is accurately populated by lemurs and the predatory fossa. The always outrageous character actor Sacha Baron Cohen steals the show with his rendition of “I Like to Move It.” King Julien is a hilariously egotistical lemur who wants to use the New York Giants as protection against the fossa. Andy Richter voicing the squeaky voiced Mort is also pretty funny. Royal advisor Maurice, voiced by Cedric the Entertainer, isn’t as convinced that Alex won’t slip into his predatory ways.
The movie’s biggest conflict is Alex’s constant lack of steak causing him to turn savage and attack his best friend. It’s pretty tragic, but the stakes are kinda low when most of it is played for laughs. I’ll admit the fossa climax isn’t as strong as the rest of Madagascar. Not that I didn’t get a kick out of the penguins helping Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman fight off the predators. They’re still very lovable characters with a believable friendship despite each of them being a different species. Alex gets his meat from sushi and the gang decides to leave Madagascar on a boat without gas. The light hearted slapstick is just as funny as when I was a kid, but jokes like “Sugar honey iced tea” are better appreciated when I’m an adult. In the end, the biggest treat is hearing the infectious party tune “I Like to Move It” one more time during the credits. Madagascar is just a fun piece of animal escapism.
Followed by: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa