‘Madagascar’ Stampedes Into Theaters

NANCY AGBENU
El Vaquero Staff Writer

“Don’t you think there might be more to life than…steak?” asked the zebra. The lion frowns, thinks and slowly shakes his head. “No,” he answers. However, there is more to DreamWorks’ latest animal movie “Madagascar” than meat.

The animation that was directed by Eric Darnell (director of DreamWorks’ first computer-animated release “Antz”) is a sunny treat for all who want to get in the barbecue-summer and sushi-island mood before July even starts.

“Madagscar” depicts the story of four animal friends who have spent all their lives in New York’s Central Park Zoo. While Alex the lion (the voice of Ben Stiller) proudly enjoys being the main attraction of the park and performs his little shows each time a crowd of spectators flood the zoo, his best friend, Marty the zebra (voiced by Chris Rock), comes to a midlife crisis, wondering about the world outside the fences.

“I’m ten years old,” says Marty at the night of his birthday. “My life is almost over and I don’t even know if I’m white with black stripes or black with white stripes.” Alex replies “everybody has days when you think the grass is greener on the other side,” and goes to sleep. When he awakes, he finds Marty has broken out of the zoo to explore New York.

Alarmed, the lion, along with his friends Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) begin the search for their friend. After a string of accidents though, all four animals find themselves shipwrecked on the island of Madagascar, “the wild.” Now the native New Yorkers have to figure out how to survive in the jungle as they discover the natural life chain of eating and being eaten.

Though “Madagscar” has been rated “PG” for mild language and crude humor and some thematic elements, it is a movie children can watch without parents being concerned. “Madagscar” excels with its family friendly, loveable, yet down-to-earth humor. The movie holds something for everyone in the household with its variety of jokes.

Though the characters in the traditionally animated “Lion King” looked softer, Madagscar’s creative and colorful sceneries make up for the blocky, yet gorgeous design of the animal characters.

It is delightful to see talking animals portrayed in the zoo contrasting the scenes of the animal kingdom on the island. And it is likewise heartwarming to see the emotional parts of the movie: When inner-city Alex the lion discovers his real self on the island and becomes aware of his genes to hunt and devour animals, even his best friends, (seeing them as mere steaks) he is devastated and wants to die.

Within it all, the movie warmly weaves in the aspect of true friendship and loyalty: zebra isn’t scared of lion’s attacks on him, yet believes in the good side of his friend.

“Stay back, I’m a monster,” says Alex the lion. “I don’t want to hurt you.” The zebra replies, “You’re not a monster, Alex!” “And I’m not gonna leave without you,” he adds when the zoo animals finally hear the sound of the people’s boat to “rescue” them and take them back to their familiar New York.

“Madagascar” quite uniquely deals with the fish-out-of the water scenario. How do people react when they are taken out of their familiar environment and comfort zone, and when all distractions leave and in they get confronted with their roots and own self? “Madagascar” at least shows what cartoon animals would do.

The native New Yorker Stiller excels in his voice of Alex the lion and his mood changes of proud lion in Central Park, to exhausted and confused “cat” in the jungle. Also convincing are the voices of Rock and the supporting actors Smith and Schwimmer.

With Chris Rock (“Chris Rock: Never Scared,” “The Incredibles”), Jada Pinkett Smith (“Collateral,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” “The Nutty Professor”), Ben Stiller (“Meet the Fockers,” “Meet the Parents”) and David SChwimmer (TV’s “Friends”)

Similarly fresh is the soundtrack of “Madagascar,” though it uses old songs, but is smart in its selection. The music ranges from classical music to Michael Jackson and James Bond melodies when the FBI-type penguins plan their plot to the Antarctic.

“Madagscar outruns last years’ “Shrek 2” and “Shark Tale” with its new ideas and jokes. Especially refreshing is that the animation has a rather unexpected end and it’s plot turns around in the very last minute; this is what makes the movie unique and leaves the audience with a smirk.

“Madagascar” is definitely an enjoyable family movie whose blockbuster version can easily be watched repeatedly. After all, in the end, Alex the lion gets transformed from dreaming of zebra steaks to enjoying sushi prepared by penguins.

With a well closured plot and an 85-minute running length, “Madagascar” manages to hold its audience’s attention span and offers a nice and entertaining family movie. With so many other options available at this time of the year, watch this movie in theaters as a treat for younger children and little brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, even older folks will walk out smiling and possibly dreaming of steak.

Rating: * * * (out of four)