Judge Kent Dixon once caught the rain down in Africa, but there were no penguins to be found.
Our review of Madagascar, published December 12th, 2005, is also available.
Alex the Lion: The wild?! Are you nuts?! That is the worst idea I have ever
(Melman the Giraffe presents Marty with a gift-wrapped thermometer)
Julian: Welcome to Madagascar!
Direct from 2005, the year that brought us great films like Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Batman Begins, and Walk the Line, and painful films like XXX: State of the Union, The Devil's Rejects, and Elektra comes Madagascar!
Facts of the Case
Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) have it good. They are waited on hand and foot by dedicated caregivers, worshipped daily by throngs of adoring fans, and have little to distract them from their idyllic lives in the Central Park Zoo. Little that is, unless you count their friend Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock). Marty is bored, tired of the same old daily routines, and wants nothing more than to return to the wild. After unsuccessfully trying to convince his friends to join him in a zoo breakout, he disappears on his own. His friends set out to find him and all of them wind up being shipped to Madagascar by accident. Throw in the megalomaniacal lemur king Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his tribe, some crazy hyenas, a crack penguin infiltration unit, and you're in for a good time.
Animated films throughout the years can really be looked at much like an archaeological dig. There are some clear strata, starting with classic and timeless Disney features at the top, ranging through great Pixar films from over the years, through efforts by Dreamworks and other studios and sadly, ending somewhere in the lowest levels with the likes of Barnyard and the 1980 Rankin/Bass adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Return of the King.
So where does Madagascar fit in this little experiment? I rank Madagascar quite comfortably in the company of The Road to El Dorado, Robots, Ice Age, and Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire. This is a film I can watch over and over, not just because I have young children, but because the film somehow connected with my whole family, including my wife and me. We quote the film from time to time to make each other laugh, and we're always open to sitting down together and watching the film as a family. There aren't many animated films that can successfully entertain a broad age range from 6 to almost 40, and all while keeping a unique charm and sense of humor.
From Shark Tale and Toy Story, to Monsters, Inc. and Shrek, if you're a movie fan of any kind you can likely, at the very least, identify the actors who are voicing the main characters. In the worst animated films (and let me say here I don't hold out much hope for Disney's Bolt because of the following fact) the character voices are done by actors who are so obvious, that you spend the entire film distracted by thoughts like "wow…is that really Phyllis Diller!?!" rather than being draw into an enjoyable story with engaging situations and lovable heroes and vile villains. It's a tribute to mainstream actors who do animation work when they create characters that, while we may still be thinking "gee, I sure miss David Schwimmer as Ross Geller," we can still buy into their on-screen persona as a neurotic giraffe, for example.
Stiller, Pinkett Smith, Schwimmer, and Rock (sounds like a law firm!) are each skilled actors and talented comedians on their own, but the real magic begins when you blend them into an eclectic group of adventurers on a mission to find themselves. There are some really memorable comedic moments throughout the film, many of them likely due to the ensemble cast's strong improvisation skills. Yes, the voice talent forms the basis of any animated film and can definitely make or break a project, but it's also a testament to the skill of the animation team that Madagascar is so entertaining for all age groups. This is an animated film that is likely to weather the passing years very well.
Released November 15, 2005, the SD DVD was a solid presentation with a clear, consistent image and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio mix that had nothing to be ashamed of either. How do you improve upon near perfection you might ask? Madagascar in hi-def is nothing short of a revelation. You wouldn't expect CG animated waves to look real, but they do. You wouldn't expect to be able to distinguish CG shadows cast by a CG sun, passing over a lush CG jungle to look real, but they do. As good as this film looked in SD, I honestly wish I could assign a Spinal Tap score of 11 to the video presentation here as it certainly deserves it.
In his review of the SD release of Madagascar, my honorable colleague the retired Judge Patrick Naugle rated the SD release's audio mix at 95. I am more than willing to say that the TrueHD audio mix makes up that extra 5 per cent, raising the score to a perfect 100 (or 11 if you prefer). There is a constant and crystal clear balance between sound effects, dialogue and music throughout, good use of all your speakers, and the audio presentation more than matches the video, rounding out a perfect home viewing experience.
As soon as you pop the disc into your player, you're immediately directed to a trailer, with no option to skip it. At first I found this irritating, until I realized the trailer was for the upcoming sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. If they can keep the same actor chemistry, laughs and solid animation, I'm sure fans of the first film will love the sequel as well. The disc menu here is reminiscent of the menu from the SD release, expect of course for the fact that the ocean and jungle footage you see here are in pleasant hi-def.
The assortment of extras from the SD release have also been included here, with some notable upgrades and additions. First the bad news: I wasn't a big fan of the "I Like To Move It, Move It" music video the last time around, but seen here again in blurry SD, alongside some really gorgeous HD material, it really doesn't fare well. If you loved the animated short "The Penguins in A Christmas Caper" that accompanied the film's theatrical release and the SD DVD release, it's also back again, but this time in stunning HD. The previous extra features "Mad Mishaps" and "Penguin Chat" have also been upgraded to HD.
Ever wonder what the real island of Madagascar is like? New to the BD release, "Enchanted Island" is a featurette that provides a decent overview of the island and its natural wonders. Also new to blu is the "Dreamworks Animation Video Jukebox" feature that gathers musical numbers from a range of Dreamworks animated films into one spot, easily navigated by a simple interface. The "Mad Trivia Pop-Up" feature, also exclusive to the BD release, offers just what you'd think-when enabled, this feature generates random bits of trivia and facts that pop up in kitschy bamboo frames.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Before a few months ago, the one regret I would have offered about Madagascar was that there was no sequel in sight. But fortunately, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is on its way this November, with the core cast from the original film and doubtless more great moments, belly laughs and spheniscidae (fancy talk for "penguin") fun for all!
Not every animated theatrical release is a winner, but when the voice acting, animation, story, and overall chemistry are in synch, you get a gem like Madagascar. If you don't already own a copy of Madagascar and have blu-ray capability in your home theater set-up, you owe it to yourself to splurge on the extra $5 or so and add this to your collection. For those with an SD copy on their shelves, gift it to a friend and go with the BD release.
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Scales of Justice
• "Penguin Chat" Commentary Track
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