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
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."
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
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
The film opens in the UK on July 15.