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Toon Talk - From the Other Side: Madagascar
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by (archives)
May 27, 2005
Kirby reviews the latest Dreamworks animated release Madagascar

Toon Talk: From the Other Side
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

(c) Dreamworks
DreamWorks Animation

The Zoo Story
To the strains of “Born Free?, a majestic sun rises over an idyllic jungle scene as our heroes swing by on a handy vine. Immediately you know you’re in DreamWorks Animation-land when you get not one, not two, but three pop culture references at once in just the first few minutes of their latest computerized comedy Madagascar. Factor in that the heroes in question are voiced by hot celebs of the moment Chris Rock and Ben Stiller, and that fact is even further cemented.

Much to the chagrin of every professional voice-over actor in the business, DreamWorks continues their trend of casting every possible celebrity known to man in all their animated features, hitting a new low with this film in that, while busy signing up their “all-star? cast (who are, no doubt, doing it for “their kids?), forgot to create characters for them to play. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with casting “name? actors in an animated film (which, alas, can vary from the sublime (Robin Williams in Aladdin) to the unwatchable (Robin Williams in Robots)), when it is done as shorthand for actual characterization (and, let’s face it, marketing), as is so baldly on display here, then there is a problem.

Cast as animals in New York City’s Central Park Zoo, Rock plays a zebra named Marty (if you think his performance will be a watered down version of Eddie Murphy’s Donkey from Shrek, you’d be right) who yearns for the wonders of “the wild?, a fantasy fueled by the colorful jungle paradise depicted in mural form on the zoo wall he stares at every day from his neatly-manicured habitat, while Stiller voices Alex, the zoo’s super-star lion who wallows in his adoring fans, his beef steak dinners, his own line of merchandise.

Joined by sassy hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) for his tenth birthday party, the zebra reveals to his friends his birthday wish: he wants to go and see the wild for himself. The others scoff at this idea (why give up such a cushy gig?), only to go after him when he actually busts loose for a visit to the wilds of … Connecticut. They make it as far as Grand Central Station before they are recaptured by the NYPD and unceremoniously shipped back to Africa.

Their ocean voyage is way-laid, though, by a pack of paranoid penguins who have their own agenda; when they high-jack the ship, the crates containing the furry foursome go overboard, washing them ashore on the titular island off the coast of Africa, where, with the help of a herd (Pride? Gaggle?) of cute-and-cuddly lemurs (dead ringers for those cute-and-cuddly Ewoks), this zoo review gets down with nature. But what happens when a lion, reverting to his inborn carnivorous instincts, starts looking at his zebra pal not as a best friend, but as a tasty snack?

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