Thursday, December 04, 2008

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

It’s a rare occasion now that I see a movie in the theater. On a whim, we decided to take our 3-year-old to see the “Madagascar” sequel. She saw the original in a hotel a while back, and she still talks about it, so she was completely stoked to see “Madagascar 2.” We would have been better off just watching “Monsters, Inc.” on DVD again.

For those without kids, just stop reading now. This is not one of those crossover animated movies that appeals to adults. “Madagascar 2” is for kids, and the adults will be lucky not to fall asleep. (My wife literally did fall asleep for a while!) Briefly, the plot is that those wacky zoo animals that were left stranded at the end of “Madagascar” finally fix up their plane and launch an effort to get back to New York. It turns out that penguins can’t navigate worth a damn, so when the plane inevitably crash lands, it is in Africa. This gives Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) a chance to re-unite with their own kind, which strains their friendship. Not that the plot matters, really. What “Madagascar 2” is really about is hyperkinetic characters zipping around the screen doing exaggerated voice acting and making winking pop-culture references.

Maybe I’m being churlish criticizing a kid’s movie, but “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” really isn’t the kind of entertainment I’m looking for for my kid. The characters, situations, and crises all feel manufactured and two-dimensional. It seems like whenever the writers got stuck, they just threw in some hip-hop and made the characters dance around. The film also slips in some clumsy slurs against hunters. Call me reactionary, but being a hunter myself I’m really not interested in having Hollywood teach my daughter that hunters are evil, thuggish, and trigger-happy. (If it sounds like I am over-reacting, I will direct you to Whit Stillman’s movie “The Last Days of Disco” for an exposition on how the depiction of hunters in “Bambi” shaped the modern environmental movement.)

If this were the best entertainment available for kids, I guess we could tolerate it, but we don’t have to! As Exhibit A, I give you “Wall-E,” which also came out this year. “Wall-E” mops the floor with the “Madagascar” movies in every way possible. This is a movie that doesn’t even have any dialog for the first 10 to 20 minutes, and yet my three-year-old daughter loved it. The robots and people in “Wall-E” have depth and subtlety to them. With a minimum of celebrity voices and no dance music, “Wall-E” manages to tell a charming story that entertains kids and adults alike. Since that is possible, we don’t have to settle for sub-par fare like “Madagascar 2”. Sure, kids like the “Madagascar” movies; kids like just about anything animated you put in front of them. We might as well put them in front of something good.

2 stars out of 5

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Floating around in my head is a comment I heard on TV from a child who watched this movie. The child told the parent that she understood he movie--she just didn't get all the words.