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Madagascar - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

FOLLOWING on from the massive splash that Shark Tale made at the world-wide box office comes Madagascar, the latest animation extravaganza from Dreamworks.

Designed as a crowd-pleaser the whole family can enjoy, it confirms Dreamworks' position as Pixar's largest rival, even if critics still consider the gap between them to be a wide one.

There's no denying, though, that Dreamworks' cartoons are heavy-hitters in terms of the vocal cast they can draw.

Shrek, its biggest success, has Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz as its main vocalists, while Shark Tale boasted the likes of Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Robert De Niro and Renee Zelwegger in its almighty cast.

Madagascar features an ensemble including Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer among its members, as well as plenty of cameo appearances from the likes of Cedric the Entertainer and, erm, Sacha Baron Cohen, of Da Ali G Show fame.

It focuses on the inhabitants of a New York Zoo and the mis-adventures they end up having when one of their member, a zebra, tags along on an escape attempt orchestrated by some villainous penguins.

The result of the great escape is that Alex the Lion (Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Rock), Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Pinkett Smith) find themselves abandoned in the wild and having to come to terms with an all-new environment.

Explains director, Eric Darnell: "It's a classic fish-out-of-water premise, and so many fun ideas spring from it. You just describe that basic idea and everybody gets it.

"That's always what you want, especially with an animated film - an idea you can say in one sentence and people's eyes light up. If you see people's eyes light up, you know you're on to something."

US reaction

Madagascar drew a mixed response from US critics when it opened at the end of May, one week after Star Wars.

Some liked it, others did not.

The Houston Chronicle, for instance, wrote that it is 'brilliantly written, animated and performed, it not only bridges the child-adult divide, but also makes its kid-friendly humor smart in its own way'.

But Rolling Stone felt that 'the movie sadly runs aground on old gags that no amount of eye-popping color and frenzied action can spin into gold'.

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, felt that 'it's a good-humored, pleasant confection that has all kinds of relaxed fun bringing computer-animated savvy to the old-fashioned world of Looney Tunes cartoons'.

While USA Today felt that 'the animation is visually stunning, and the animals' stylized rendering and friendly look is in keeping with the energetic mood of the movie'.

But the Washington Post felt that 'the movie fails to satisfy on such a fundamental level that it either must be setting itself up for a Madagascar 2 or must hope that the audience isn't paying too much attention. I vote for the latter'.

And the New York Post wrote that it 'sputters to an end without building to any sort of satisfying conclusion'.

The New York Times pointed out that 'like many computer-animated features, this one, about four animals exiled from the Central Park Zoo, expends most of its imaginative resources on clever visuals'.

And the Hollywood Reporter felt that it 'runs out of gas'.

But the San Francisco Chronicle was more upbeat, stating that 'what makes it good is that the story is a kind of parable that suggests some seriousness beneath the surface, even sadness'.

And the Denver Post wrote that it is 'appropriate for the wee ones, this flick promises to please parents who will inevitably be in for repeat viewings'.

The final word, however, goes to CNN, which concluded that Madagascar is 'a delight', adding: "Co-writers and -directors McGrath and Eric Darnell, along with their entire team, have done a terrific job with their sweet and whimsical story."

The film opens in the UK on July 15.

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