There’s just something about DreamWorks’ animated features that make me feel disinterested. Not only have Pixar conquered the (non-musical) animated movie world to near perfection, but smaller studios – such as the wonderful Cartoon Saloon, for example – seem to put out much more original and beautiful films than DreamWorks ever do. It’s almost as if DreamWorks are constantly striving to be as good as Pixar (and Disney), so their animated works are generally one step behind their biggest rivals.
The Madagascar franchise is one of a handful of DreamWorks Animation’s efforts that has sequels. For instance, How To Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda and the phenomenally popular Shrek have more than one, and The Croods and Trolls have one sequel each. Why am I mentioning this? Because once again, it feels as though this is an attempt to keep up with Pixar and its respective sequels. (Cars, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Incredibles… Each of these also have sequels going for them.) To me, it feels strangely like DreamWorks have seen Pixar doing this and thought “we must do that too!” In short, it often feels like DreamWorks is the annoying kid brother to Pixar’s superior older sister.
The real question is, did Madagascar really need two sequels and a spin-off movie based on the film’s humorous penguins? Probably not. However, it’s easy to see why they thought it was a good idea – this movie was an absolute cash cow upon release. Garnering $532 million in revenue off a $75 million budget, there’s no wonder why studio executives pushed for more. (For context, both Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Madagascar: Europe’s Most Wanted made an even heftier sum at the box office later on.)
It’s evident why this was so popular upon my first watch though: cute animals, funny dialogue. My favourite quote? “ALL HAIL THE NEW YORK GIANTS!” Of course, being a Big Blue fanatic, I am biased. But the way the writers worked that joke in was nothing short of genius.
However, this movie is not all as impressive as the figures suggest…
It’s extremely clear that Madagascar was made pre-advancements in 3D animation. It’s clunky, unrefined, blocky and often rough around the edges… but that doesn’t really matter when it comes to overall entertainment value. Would a little kid even notice the sub-par visuals? Probably not. For an adult though, it’s like watching Mulan (1998) and then trying to watch Snow White (1937) straight after. Does that make sense? Well, it does to me.
Narratively, it’s a very simple premise: a bunch of zoo animals in captivity wonder what it’d be like to live in the wild and inadvertently find themselves on the island of Madagascar. Some of the jokes unexpectedly complex and fully made for the grown-ups though, which is always a big bonus. Chris Rock shines amongst the star-studded voice cast, but no one is more entertaining than Sacha Baron Cohen as the ultra-camp lemur king. (Fun fact: SBC was relatively little-known at the time, but impressed the producers so much that they ended up writing a bigger part in the movie just for him. Nice.)
Where Madagascar nails it is in its music choices. It probably has one of the best popular music soundtracks I’ve come across in an animated film. Artists like The Bees and Louis Armstrong make appearances, somehow adding to the humour by being incredibly apt at the same time.
On the whole, Madagascar is certainly not the most memorable or seamless animated movie in the world; the ending is abrupt and haphazard, the story is basic, and – as mentioned – the animation is borderline awful. But it’s short, sweet, and regularly funny.
Average in general, but I can’t complain.
Madagascar is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, Now TV and Sky Cinema in the UK.
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