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Madagascar - Jeffrey Katzenberg/Tom McGrath



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Jeffrey Katzenberg (producer) interview

Q. I gather Madagascar marks your acting debut?
A:
Yes. I am the extremely inarticulate penguin, Rico, who never says a word but does do some grunting. And I prepared sushi at the end, and say ‘hai!’ directed by Mr McGrath. Probably the hardest directing assignment of his entire career.......
McGrath: 38 takes.
Katzenberg: And I was a telephone operator, it was a very inauspicious debut I have to say. I’m giving up my acting career already.

Q. How did you come to cast Sacha Baron Cohen, who remains best known to UK audiences as Ali G?
Katzenberg:
I was introduced to him by my son, a number of years ago, very early on, he was on to the Ali G Show. When the filmmakers were looking to do something special with this lemur character the idea of Sacha came up. So we brought him into the studio.
McGrath: Julien, the ring-tailed lemur character, had three lines in the script originally. He just raised his hand in that meeting on the plane and said a few words.
Sacha came in and was playing around with accents, a little Indian, a little French, and then he based this character on this odd uncle of his. At least that’s what he told us.
So these three lines turned into about 20 minutes of dialogue that he invented. We were just laughing so much we changed the roles, figuring this guy has to be king of these lemurs.
He was so much fun, and so inventive. He wanted to sing Move It, I want to sing that song by Grand Puba, a million words per beat, but he had a lot of fun doing it, and he brought a lot of laughs.

Q. Did the animators observe real animals when researching the characters?
A:
This is a much more stylised movie. Kendal Cronkhite, the production designer, came up with the elements that were so original and so unique. The style of the design of the characters is frankly what inspired the style of the animation itself.
It’s very much an homage to the Tex Avery, 1940s style, but taken and made very state of the art through CG animation. It also came from that very stylised look and feel to the design of the characters that led to that squash and stretch and very cartoony approach to computer animation.
Technically, that is one of the great innovations of this film and was not even possible 18 months ago.

Q. So how do you view the state of DreamWorks animation? Are you approaching where Disney were a few years back, say with Lion King?
A:
I think we’re still very much in our younger years. By the time Lion King had happened Disney had begun a full on renaissance of animation at that point with an incredible run of films like Roger Rabbit, Mermaid, Aladdin. For us we’re still finding our way a bit.
Shrek was a defining moment for us a couple of years ago. The movies you’re seeing today are following the tradition of those in terms of sensibility.

Q. Do you think films are making faster progress with CG animation?
A:
I think it’s an artistic thing, I don’t think it’s a technical thing. I think our artists are really maturing, many of them are into their second or even their third movies for us now. They really are very strong in their craft, in forming their vision of what they want to do with these movies.
I think you’ll see, hopefully in the next two or three years, a very rich diversity of styles, stories and designs. They’re all very different from one another and that’s what’s exciting about it.

Q. Did you feel any pressure to make Madagascar better following the negative critical response to Shark Tale?
A:
On each and every one of these movies we try to make the best film that we can every time out. That’s why these jobs are so difficult on the one hand, and amazingly rewarding on the other, that someone ultimately has made that decision and not us.
We love the movie, we’re all proud of it, though I don’t think Shrek is the criteria that we should measure everything on from here on in. That was a pretty exceptional movie, but I’m every bit as proud of Madagascar as I am of Shrek. It’s done well so far, better than Shark Tale.

Tom McGrath - director (interview)

Q. Can you tell us about your role as Skipper? I guess casting yourself meant you were cheap at the cost?
A:
That’s true, I’m very inexpensive. It was fun for me, the penguins had a small role that kept on growing. We just felt they worked well with the story; they had a sub plot that mirrored what the New Yorkers were going through. Especially Marty, with his ‘grass is greener’ kind of mentality. It was fun, we had a lot of fun with it.

Q. How did you work with the actors to get the precise look of the characters?
McGrath:
What we do when they’re behind the mike as we’re getting their voices is videotape it too. So there are certain expressions that all the actors make, and some of the nuance, and the animators can reference these.
They put them into the characters because there are great expressions even when the actors are listening, that the animators jump on.
So even though the character designs don’t necessarily look like our actors, their actions and some of their expressions are based on what they gave us.

Q. Can you give us some examples?
McGrath:
There are things from Jada, when she’s looking at Alex and gives him a stare which are priceless. Perfect for Gloria and her strong attitude.
Katzenberg: And if any of you ask an inappropriate question you will be getting that look. Or Ben on the beach going ‘no, no, no, no, no’. That’s the sort of stuff that the animators would seize on. It’s endless. Most everything you see on the screen is kind of like that.

Q. What extras can we expect on the DVD?
McGrath:
We do have a lot of great stuff for the DVD. The way that animation works, it’s not like live action where you have a lot of takes on a scene, out-takes or things like that. But there is some good stuff that didn’t make the film.
Katzenberg: We do have 20 hours of Sacha Baron Cohen.
McGrath: Yeah, there’s a couple of things that we might put on the DVD.
Katzenberg: He did 15 minutes on what would happen to the island of Madagascar if the New York Giants pooped there. I’m kidding.

Watch the trailer:
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Madagascar: Review

David Schwimmer interview l Special feature

Ben Stiller interview

Chris Rock interview

Jada Pinkett Smith interview

 

 

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