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MADAGASCAR

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter
Directors:  Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dreamworks
Features:  See Review
Length:  November 14, 2005

"Cute and cuddly, boys...cute and cuddly."

Film ***

Madagascar is a zany comedy filled with slapstick, in-jokes, and a major-league fish out of water syndrome.  The fact that it's also a computer animated flick with some great voice talents behind it adds to the fun.

It centers around four loveable animals:  Marty the restless zebra (Rock), Alex the ham-handed lion (Stiller), Gloria the no-nonsense hippo (Smith), and Melman, the hypochondriac giraffe (Schwimmer).  They live in the Central Park Zoo in New York, where their lives consist of entertaining the guests, and...well, not much else.

Marty feels there must be more to life than their coddled existence, but his best friend Alex can't imagine life outside the zoo, where he's the mane...er, main attraction!  But soon, he'll have to...thanks to Marty's bungled attempt at a big city adventure, the people decide that captive life is cruel for the foursome...they're about to be sent back to the wild where they belong!

They end up on the island of Madagascar, where they have to deal with things they never dealt with before:  namely, a world divided up into predator vs. prey.  Some friendly but less-than-bright lemurs believe Alex is a hero come to save them from their "fossa" enemies.  But what does a lion do when the call of the wild answers?  And for that matter, what do four savvy New York animals do when confronted with the ultimate game of Survivor?

Well, it's a simple comic premise, and a tried-and-true one.  What makes the film work is the adorability of the animal characters, who look more like plush toys than the real things.  Watch out for the pesky army of penguins determined to get back to Antarctica (leading to a great payoff), or the impossibly cute lemur voiced by Cedric the Entertainer.  Or for that matter, the cultured monkeys, who want to go see Tom Wolfe in order to...well, better see that for yourself.

As a comedy, it doesn't take many false steps.  The script is lively with jokes, including a few aimed squarely at the grown-ups.  The references to The Twilight Zone, Cast Away and Planet of the Apes are all priceless.

The quartet of stars is what makes the characters work, and the characters is what makes the film work.  I suppose the point is that if friends stick together, even animal ones, they can get through anything.  Even if they have to learn to live like the wild beasts they really are!

Video ****

Computer animation and DVD?  You don't get many marriages better than that.  This movie is colorful and rich in detail, and nothing gets lost in the anamorphic transfer.  Dreamworks never disappoints in the video department, and Madagascar is no exception.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio mix is good, but not quite as lively as I would have hoped.  Sounds are crisp and clean throughout, but there is only sparing use of the rear channels and subwoofer.  Dynamic range is above average, and dialogue is well-rendered throughout.

Features ***1/2

There are extras for young and old alike on this disc...if you want to hear more about the film itself, listen to the filmmakers' commentary track, or if you want more of the penguins, choose their scene-specific chat for more laughs.

There is a blooper reel, a look at the voices that brought the characters to life, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a look at the technology of the film, production notes and talent bios.  There is a look at the real Madagascar, a music video for "I Like to Move It, Move It", and several fun games and activities for the kiddies.  You can also watch the theatrical short "A Christmas Caper", starring the penguins!

And speaking of those flightless waterfowl, while you peruse the menus, keep an eye out for the penguin footprints:  they lead you to code letters.  Put them together, and you get to play an interactive 3D game with the penguins.  Fun stuff!  

Summary:

The animals have taken over the zoo, and the result is a rip-roaring comedy that will please adults and kids alike.  Madagascar is a fun movie and a fun DVD.  Grab your sushi boat and enjoy.

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