Madagascar (US - BD)
Gabe takes a journey to trap and kill Reel 2 Real for writing 'I Like to Move It'...
Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) turns ten, has a midlife crisis, and decides to escape from his lifelong home, the Central Park Zoo. When he disappears his friends Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) break out to ‘rescue’ him from the mean streets of New York. Unfortunately the zoo’s officials are convinced by animal rights activists that the animals are unhappy in their cages, and decide to ship their entire stock to Africa, but a group of warrior penguins break out of their crates and hijack the ship, and in the commotion Marty, Alex, Gloria and Melman find themselves on the island of Madagascar, where their natural instincts start to take over.
I missed Madagascar the first time out, mostly due to the uninteresting trailers. Mediocre reviews didn’t help, but I’m happy to say that I generally liked this light weight animated feature more than most Dreamworks Animation releases. More than the second two Shrek films, more than Bee Movie, and much more than Shark Tale.
I enjoyed the first act quite a bit more than the second two acts, mostly because the New York City stuff features the most original writing voice. Though the characters have their arcs when they get to the wild, the early set up of their various neuroses is a more novel experience. The plot progress of the latter two acts isn’t surprisingly unoriginal, but follow such a vanilla line of cause and result that I found myself zoning out any character or plot development in favour of the zany visuals. The most flagrant scripting issue is the final resolution, which doesn’t actually deal with any of story’s conflicts. The coming of this fall’s sequel isn’t a surprise, I suppose.
Most of the pop-culture jokishness (which Dreamworks just can’t seem to escape) is already entirely irrelevant, or was played-out when The Simpsons did it a decade and a half ago ( Planet of the Apes Statue of Liberty jokes should be official banned from film), but I laughed at a few of these sillier moments, like the American Beauty bit. The best references are the more ‘timeless’ ones, which includes mostly classic music cues. The verbal banter isn’t very impressive given the cast’s pedigree, and the comedy dialogue is broad in the lamest sense, but the humour prevalently works because of the energetic animation style.
I’m happy to report (several years after the fact) that Dreamworks chose to go with a more graphic and stylized look for the Madagascar films. The character looks were apparently based on classic Golden Book illustrations, and the character animation really effectively embraces the best elements of 2D animation. The abstract stretching and super expressive flexibility is the film’s strongest asset, basically exacting Chuck Jones’ style in 3D animation. CG animation has generally lacked spring, and normally depends on very quick movements to infer broad expression. Usually the big studios spend the majority of their CG focusing on an almost fetishistic increase in realism, rather than new ways to create energetic visuals.
I generally like the look and design of Madagascar, which sort of embraces the inherently plastic look of CG animation. For the most part details are made up of hard and thick lines rather than super intricate particles. Sometimes the background and natural elements are more realistic looking (like beach sand , sea water or fire), but even animal hair and wood grain are relatively thick. This 1080p transfer makes the best of both the plastic look and the semi-realistic looks, featuring bright, full, and sharp colours. Those looking to be impressed need only take a close look at the black part of the penguin’s coats, which shine like fine wound silk ever so subtly. The transfer isn’t perfect, though, edge enhancement is a minor issue, and there is minor noise in some of the more solid colours.
This Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is mixed pretty widely among the speakers, and though not entirely ‘natural’ these bits add a bit of spice to the whole film. There’s a simple bit towards the beginning of the film where the lion, hippo, and giraffe sing Happy Birthday to the Zebra by splitting each word of the song, and each of them is given their own front channel. It’s not often that my front three channels are so distinctly divided. The bass track is punchy, and features a few good vibration moments, most of which come out of the pop music. This isn’t the most ambitious audio production on Blu-ray, but my only complaint would be that the centre channel is noticeably louder than the stereo channels.
Extras begin with a lethargic commentary from directors Eric Darnell and Tim McGrath. Both participants sound exhausted, and when they do speak (which isn’t very regularly) it usually consists of either ‘background character X was voiced by Y’, ‘this was inspired by that’, and long, tapering explanations of a particular process. The Blu-Ray exclusive pop-up trivia fact manages to dole out the same information more efficiently.
‘The Penguins Christmas Caper’ short is laid out in full 1080p hi-def and 5.1 surround sound. The short itself (running a little over ten minutes) is not surprisingly more entertaining per second than the feature film. The Penguins also star on a scene specific audio commentary section.
Next we’ve got the ‘Meet the Cast’ featurette that seems to accompany every Dreamworks Animation release, and just like last time, this seven and a half minute EPK premiered on television to promote the film. ‘Tech of Madagascar’ is a less fluffy. Five minute look at the technical stuff that went into the animation, which ends a little like an Army recruitment video. ‘Behind the Crates’ is kind of a mix of the other two featurettes, and runs the longest of all three, at about twenty three minutes. Here the Tex Avery and Chuck Jones influences are verified, and delved into with more technical information. ‘Mad Mishaps’ is a minute and a half of animation errors. The behind the scenes stuff finishes off with ‘Enchanted Island’, an eight minute examination of the real island of Madagascar, slanted as an ad for the film.
The kids section of the disc includes a music video for the film’s version of ‘I Like to Move It, Move It’, a step by step instructional video on drawing the film’s characters, and a Dreamworks Kid’s video juke box.
Madagascar continues the animation world’s ever popular theme of making children feel guilty about their everyday lives, in this case looking at animals in captivity and eating steak. Recent examples of this practice include Toy Story 2, which made children feel bad about abandoning their toys, Finding Nemo, which made them feel bad about eating fish, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which made them feel bad about making fun of ugly co-adolescents.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 23rd September 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, 'Penguins Christmas Caper', Penguin Commentary, 'Meet the Cast', 'Tech of Madagascar', 'Behind the Crates', 'Mad Mishaps', 'Enchanted Island', Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
Cast: Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Cedric the Entertainer
Genre: Animation and Comedy
Length: 86 minutes
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