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Our First Test Screening Review of Dreamworks Animation

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

We showed a chunk of this at BNAT this year, and it seemed like there were some really funny moments, and an overall aesthetic that is unusually lush. It wasn’t enough to judge the film as a whole, of course, but today’s spy has seen the whole film. So what’d he think?

Hey film lovers.

I recently attended a test screening of the new DreamWorks computer animated film MADAGASCAR and since I have yet to see any reviews on your site, and this is set to be a major summer blockbuster, I figured I’d weigh in with my opinion.

Firstly I’d like to say that before the screening we were told that we were some of the first people to see the film and that it was only 70% complete. 15% was only very, very basic animation (no texture or background detail) and the final 15% was storyboard. Obviously the film was a good way off from being finished, and so there is plenty of time to tweak the film before its summer release. I am a huge fan of computer animated films, I thought The Incredibles was the best film of last year and, with one exception, I’ve either loved or liked every one I’ve seen. The one exception was Shark Tale, DreamWorks’s last CGI effort. Nothing in the trailer interested me enough to go to see the movie which looked like it was far too worried with celebrity cast and being “street” to be a decent, enjoyable film. Most critics seemed to say the same and so I was a little worried about Madagascar, as it also has a big name cast.

However, the film was a great surprise. It was genuinely funny and had plenty of characters that an audience can actually care about. The basic, spoiler free story involves 4 African animals who have lived all their lives in the Central Park zoo. Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) experiences a mid life crisis after his 10th birthday and decides he wants to experience life in the wild. His 3 best friends, including Alex the Lion, the pompous star of the central Park Zoo try to persuade him that New York is the best place to be, but soon he breaks out and heads for the wild, leading to a chain of events that cause the four to be captured, crated and shipped back to Africa. When the boat is taken over by penguins (it actually makes sense in the movie) they are washed overboard and end up on the island of Madagascar.

Most animated films involve two or more characters that form a friendship through their shared adventure. The fact that all the main characters are friends from the start makes this a little different, as there is a great chemistry between the 4 leads from the get go. The main relationship between Alex and Marty really makes this film, just as the chemistry between Mike and Sully was the best part of Monsters Inc. Ben Stiller and Chris Rock do a great job of making them 2 great characters, and not just animated versions of themselves that Shark Tale seemed to do with its leads. David Scwimmer does a great job as the Hypochondriac giraffe. Jada Pinkett Smith as the sassy Hippo works well too, but her character is the least interesting of the four.

Making the main characters New Yorkers was another great move as much of the film works great as a fish out of water film with the city slickers coming to grips with the wild. There is some great New York humor thrown in here and this also really gives a unique feel to this film. The whole film displays moments of great adult (but not dirty) humor that will go way over kid’s heads. References to American Beauty and the original Planet of the Apes work a lot better than the way too obvious movie references in Shrek 2. However, because of this the movie might not appeal to kids as much as other animated films.

The best part of the movie is without doubt Sacha Baron Cohen’s King of the Lemurs character. He steals every single scene he is in and is probably one of the most unique and bizarre characters I have seen in an animated movie since the Genie in Aladdin. Cohen really should think about more voice over work after this performance. A close second are the penguins who speak entirely in military terms and are the perfect mix of kiddy comic relief and smart satirical humor.

However there are still a few problems with the film. Although the characters are great, there is not really a strong enough story to carry them for the entire film. Once they arrive on the island, things slow down a little (apart from Cohen’s scenes) and instead of a big, exciting adventure for the audience to get involved in, we merely get a chain of events, none of which are really enough to turn this very good movie to a great movie. Incredibles, Toy Story and Shrek all had good characters AND great adventures with villains we could love to hate. Madagascar does not really have these and when on the island things tend to run more like a sitcom than a big screen adventure/comedy. However, the movie is not completed and I’m sure by adding a few minutes of footage, a bit more conflict with the island’s less friendly inhabitants, or expanding the plot they give us in the final half, this problem could be solved. I have a feeling there is more to be done on this movie as it seemed to run pretty short (about 80 minutes) and the last 15 minutes was almost entirely unfinished. If they leave it as it is and it partly fails as a fun adventure, we still have a great ensemble comedy, but knowing it could be much more with just a few tweaks really has me hoping a few things change between now and the release date.

If you use this review, call me Duckula.

In case you need to know I’m a 21 year old college student. Sorry if this is a bit long, this was my first review. Thanks and keep up the good work! AINTITCOOL is like a movie bible to me.

Wait a minute... Sacha Baron Cohen is the King of the Lemurs?!?! Well, they just sold me a ticket. The penguins were hilarious in the clips we saw, but Cohen as the King of the Lemurs? Sign me up.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • The review smells a little fishy to me. Too positive and let's face it, the trailer seems more like Shark Tale than Shrek. the only negatives are not really negatives, because he constantly tells us that he's confident the studio will fix the problems.

  • Muahahahahahahhahaaaaaaaaa ... 21 year old college student MY ASS. PLANT

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 9:05 a.m. CST

    it was that good...

    by speed

    the incredibles i'm talkin' about...well, for me anyway. IT was the simpsons as super heroes! and any movie that doesn't have a fish with a gimpy fin in it is a winner in my books. I want theincredibles 2! and This flick looks like it might be fun as well. i really like the animation style. I dunno why but it reminds me of a Miro painting. the colours and the lines perhaps...

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 10:12 a.m. CST

    Judging by the teaser trailer shown before Shark Tale...

    by Osmosis Jones

    ...this movie will have some of the ugliest character designs this side of Seth McFarlane. It's trying to make "hand-drawn" designs work in three dimensions, and it looks like shit. Plus, another celeb-crammed voice cast...*sigh* It's funny how The Incredibles and Finding Nemo raked it in despite such box-office non-entities as Ellen Degeneres and Craig T. Nelson doing voices.

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 10:48 a.m. CST

    U R right osmo!!

    by unmancito

    but i still wanna see penguins behaving badly!!!

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 11:24 a.m. CST

    you mean "Plantula," no?

    by Hud

    something about that glib advice to "add a few more minutes of footage," or more "conflict" or "expand the plot" sounds like minor studio functionary-speak. Way to make a movie just like every other movie!

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 12:26 p.m. CST

    Plant, Schlant!

    by utz_world

    This is a legit posting, folks! I was (probably) at the same test screening that Dukula attended. I can confirm that it was 70% (or so) completed and the ending was totally storyboarded. My wife and my friend even got picked for the post-screening focus group. Overall, the flick was pretty good.

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 4:11 p.m. CST

    still a plant

    by matrix69

    Just because the screening actually happened doesn't mean this isn't a plant. Hello...

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 8 p.m. CST

    Positive review for a non-franchise = plant

    by Terry_1978

    Ain't that always the case on here?

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 10:27 p.m. CST

    Does every postive advance review have to be a plant?

    by Thes

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 10:28 p.m. CST


    by Thes

    does it?

  • Feb. 9, 2005, 11:02 p.m. CST

    appearently so..

    by jonleeus

    thes,but that's capitalism for you.He's just Making some money ..right??

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 4:28 a.m. CST


    by Gluecifer

    of these fuckin' 3D animated movies with fuckin' animals trying to find somebody or to escape from a place... Could they just imagine something a little more interesting, challenging,... Could they do a fuckin' serious movie, not always comedies (good or not) "for the entire family"?

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 4:59 p.m. CST

    Two points

    by Hamish

    1. Incredibles was that good. Just cos it wasn't full of innuendo jokes doesn't mean it wasn't a classic. It was the more serious side of animated movies, and I got more of a FF meets Dr No vibe than a Shrek or Nemo vibe. 2. Isn't it possible that everyone calling plant is forgetting the fact that this is exactly the way a film student would talk. Where do you think interns who do the planting learn to write reviews? Film school maybe? Duh...

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 5 p.m. CST

    Two points

    by Hamish

    1. Incredibles was that good. Just cos it wasn't full of innuendo jokes doesn't mean it wasn't a classic. It was the more serious side of animated movies, and I got more of a FF meets Dr No vibe than a Shrek or Nemo vibe. 2. Isn't it possible that everyone calling plant is forgetting the fact that this is exactly the way a film student would talk. Where do you think interns who do the planting learn to write reviews? Film school maybe? Duh...

  • Feb. 11, 2005, 7:22 p.m. CST

    by millermeusa

    its gonna suck, it has whoopie goldberg in it!!!!