Hey folks, Harry here with another review of MADAGASCAR which according to this one... is an entertaining, albeit ultimately fluffy piece. That tends to be the sort of criticism that no amount of tweaking really touches. But then - is the film supposed to be anything more than entertaining and is there anything wrong with that? I guess that depends on how much it entertains you or me. Watch out for spoilers and remember - there's a lot of time between now and when this hits - and the very purpose of these screenings are to do nip and tucks to the finished product. Here ya go...
So going to Ong Bak on opening night had an added benefit...besides getting to see Tony Jaa-style abuse on the big screen and discuss in geekly fashion what Besson decided to cut from the original Thai movie, we got invited to a screening of Madagascar, the next computer-generated feature to be dragged out of the Dreamworks stable on Shrek's stinky coattails.
Going in, I have to admit that I didn't see Shark Tales because of the fairly putrid 34% it received on Rotten Tomatoes, and also because the story seemed similar to the shark sub-plot in Nemo, which to me would be impossible to improve on. Shrek and Shrek 2 I enjoyed very much, and I've enjoyed or loved every Pixar film...the Incredibles I think is the finest animated film ever, with Iron Giant a close second.
I saw the same version as the first reviewer...70% complete, the rest animatics and storyboards. They even ran a little featurette before the movie to explain why some of the footage would be "different;" it showed one scene in various stages of the animation process and talked a bit about them. There were still people in the audience who laughed and seemed surprised when the changes occurred, but I think some of them were suffering from various "chemical inbalances."
First off, I did enjoy this movie, and I recommend it if you like Shrek and that ilk...don't expect Pixar quality story, but expect to be entertained and have a few laughs. That said, here's what I DIDN'T like and some of what I did.
I think the story for this movie is really intriguing and full of possibility...a group of zoo animals stranded on the island of Madagascar, trying to adapt to life in the wild. The choice of Madagascar really let the animators run wild, and the environments are incredible. What's really too bad is that they threw away this great story idea and decided to concentrate on toilet humor and tired pop culture references. Do we really need another reference to Planet of the Apes? It's admittedly done in a rather funny way, but I'd much prefer more story development or even more crazy lemurs. Every pop culture reference in this movie was already done in the Simpsons. Yes, even the Twilight Zone "It's a cookbook!" one. Although the Castaway reference was in Family Guy, I guess.
Anyway, because of all the gags and potty mouth, the most interesting part of this movie was rushed through at breakneck speed, and was therefore completely unsatisfying. What would a lion (Alex) do when his hunger broke through the years of civility and friendship with animals that should be his prey? Run away, get depressed, save his friend, run back and eat sushi, apparently. It would have been fun to see him struggle a little bit, like Shrek struggled with his problems... I want to see Alex give in to his instincts and live with the predators a little before he turns it around. But I guess that would be tough to do in the last 10 minutes of this film, which is when all this takes place.
Also interesting was the realization by one of the lemurs, played by Cedric the Entertainer, that this giant creature might not be the savior he seems...but again it's not really what the filmakers wanted to concentrate on, so it's overshadowed by the wacky king lemur, played by that crazy Ali G wannabe.
I'm talking about the supporting cast first, because they really make this film. The main characters I mostly found weak, as I explain below. Just about every incidental character here is brilliant. In fact, I want to see one movie about each of them. More than I wanted to see this movie.
Monkeys: One proper English type, one degenerate type who can nonetheless read and communicate with sign language. Hijinks ensue...for about 30 seconds on screen. Weak. And TWO flinging poo jokes? As funny as monkey poo is, one is enough. There's other funny monkey stuff. Great characters criminally underused.
Penguins: They drive the plot, and the payoff is predictable but great. Evil penguins are gold.
Lemurs: Holy crap, lemurs are insane... Ali G is great as a lemur although he sounds strangely like that Borat fellow I've seen on public access... The best part of the lemur scenes is watching the hundreds of lemurs in the background jump around like they're on crack...that and the disturbing-looking yet cute little baby lemur. Some fairly twisted stuff involving the lemurs.
Here's the main downfall of the movie for me...three of the four main characters are completely forgettable, completely miscast, and really completely annoying. David Schwimmer as the hypochondriac giraffe Melman is great, and I especially like the fact that while he's completely non-functioning in the zoo environment, he slowly becomes more competent and more comfortable with himself in the wild. Great little piece of character development there.
Unfortunately, the Lion (Alex, played by Ben Stiller), the Hippo (Gloria, played by Jada Pinkett Smith) and the Zebra (Marty, played by Chris Rock) really almost ruined the movie for me. In the first 30 minutes or so, when the animals are in the zoo, the dialogue and interaction between these characters is painful to watch. They scream at each other constantly, it's really not well done.
First: Chris Rock, one of the funniest men on the planet, is not a good actor, nor does he have an endearing voice. His voice, in fact, is squeaky and annoying. I got no sense of any sort of feeling this animal had about being in a zoo, or how he would feel about being in the wild, from Rock's performance. The words said it, but I didn't feel it.
Second: Ben Stiller, also very funny, and a good actor, should not play a big, self-confident, hiding-the-rage-and-destruction-inside lion. At the beginning it's OK, he's good as the lion that likes being at the zoo and likes performing, but when the beast within starts showing there's nothing the least bit scary or intimidating in his voice. I'm not expecting James Earl Jones, here, but come on. When Alex roars (great big scary roar), it seems like there's another lion in the bushes, because that COULDN'T be pansy (king lemur's word) Alex lion roaring.
Third: Jada Smith, eh, some funny moments but really nothing to do except be fat and strong and screaming. I like her as an actress, but wouldn't have known it was her.
I understand the reality behind marketing an animated movie, but at least learn from Disney and Pixar and get people who can perform and expand the roles and not just read them. It might have been the crappy writing for these characters that got in the way, I shouldn't lay all the blame on the actors.
OK, that's it. Go see it expecting to be entertained and to get a few laughs, but not much else. I found myself thinking about what they could have done with such a great premise, so try not to think too much. Good advice for most movies, actually.
They call me DUNDERKLUMPEN.