Dreamworks 15: Madagascar Escape 2 Africa

Some who have been following my DreamWorks series may remember I was not a big fan of the original Madagascar film. I thought it was cliched, unfunny with terrible animation particularly in the character design. DreamWorks often improves their franchises on the 2nd film and I was hoping that would be the case with the Madagascar sequel dubbed Escape 2 Africa but sadly it was not to be. I really thought this was a dreadful animated film.

My biggest problem with this movie is I found it rather mean spirited. At least in the first film you had the lemurs and penguins to bring some humor to the festivities but here that comic relief is used very sparingly. Instead we get an opening number where a baby lion is abducted while his father is shot at. Then you have plane crash that’s pretty intense and an elderly woman is punched in the face repeatedly. It doesn’t sound like a laugh riot to me…

The movie starts showing Alex’s birth family and his father teaching him great lessons while his uncle is scheming for power (because we haven’t seen that plotline with lions before…). The uncle is voiced by Alec Baldwin and I thought he was awful. He was annoying and a villain we’ve seen a million times.

The troop end up getting to Africa and meet their respective species where they all have trouble fitting in. Marty the zebra had a funny sequence where he looks like all of his fellow zebras and doesn’t feel unique any more but the rest including a romantic storyline between Melman and Gloria did nothing for me.

Escape 2 Africa is one of those comedies for children where they think characters arguing and saying mean things to each other is the same thing as telling jokes. It reminded me of the last Ice Age movie in that regard. It just kept getting more argumentative, annoying and mean spirited as it went along until I could barely stand it.

I also didn’t appreciate how we have another movie that treats masculinity as inherently toxic. Alex doesn’t want to fight because he was taught to dance and entertain. Eventually he wins everyone over to his side and they accept him, which is great but it’s just such a tired lesson at this point. Why not have him train and learn to be a better fighter? This wouldn’t just be acceptance but it would be empowering. It would show he could be both the fighter and the dancer, so even better.

The animation also can’t save Escape 2 Africa. It looked remarkably cheap for 2008. The voice acting is good and I do like the penguins when they are on screen. I wish we got much more of them.

I know other people enjoy this franchise but it is not for me (at least so far). I really didn’t like this film much at all.

Overall Grade- D

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Dreamworks 9: Madagascar

From 2003-2005 I did not see any feature films because I was on a mission for my church. There have been some films like The Incredibles (2004) that I have naturally caught up on but there are still many holes during those years. For example, the first Madagascar film I had never seen prior to this week. The only entry in the franchise I’d seen is the Penguins of Madagascar, which I enjoyed back in 2014. Unfortunately this first entry, Madagascar, isn’t as strong of a film and it left me a bit baffled at how 3 films were made.

I think what surprised me the most about this film is how horrible the animation was. Everything looked very strange and I thought it must have been released in 3D the way the heads of the characters kept flying towards the screen. I mean look at the image above. The neck on the giraffe would have to be 7 ft tall which is pushing it even for a giraffe. It looks so weird and there were many images like that.

Look at this zebra. His eyes are different sizes. His face looks strange and his mouth sticks out and is the size of his entire upper body. It looks so weird.

All of the characters are like that and the animation is also really jerky. Take a look at this clip of a birthday scene. Notice the way the characters heads jerk in front of the camera. It’s not the smooth and professional looking animation you expect from a major studio.

I also thought the story and characters were pretty pedestrian and bland. Basically Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) is tired of the life of the zoo and he wants to break free (how many times have we seen that story?) while Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) is fine being pampered. They eventually end up out of the zoo and have to find a way home. It’s pretty simple stuff we’ve seen a million times.

The best part of Madagascar is the voice acting which all works. It’s one of the examples where Dreamworks celebrity casting pay offs. Chris Rock is good as Marty, Ben Stiller as Alex and David Schwimmer as Melman. Most of the other characters aren’t given a ton to do but they fit well.

Also 2 groups of characters save the movie- the lemurs and penguins. The penguins are secret agent penguins that live at the zoo and are very funny. The lemurs live on the island and are ruled by King Julian voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen. They have a funny dance number and provide some unpredictability to the clunky script.

Other than that, I was pretty underwhelmed by Madagascar. The animation was bad. The story was pedestrian and boring. The characters were very predictable and bland. It certainly is shocking something so mediocre inspired 3 sequels. I’m told 2 and 3 get a lot better. Let’s hope so…

Overall Grade- C- for the lemurs and penguins

Penguins of Madagascar Review

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So I have made it my mission to watch all the major animated theatrical releases this year and as we are nearing December there were only 2 left in the docket- Penguins of Madagascar and Song of the Sea (which hopefully will play by me in December).

I debated whether to see Penguins because I actually have not seen any of the previous Madagascar films.  The first one came out when I was just home from my Mormon mission and wasn’t really in a movie-going mode yet.  Then I didn’t hear great things and so I never bothered to see any of them.  (I am not a big Chris Rock fan and I really dislike the Shrek movies so not much appeal.

But I had set the goal to see all the animated movies and my favorite critics over at What the Flick said they laughed their heads off so I decided to go and check it out.

And you know what? It’s actually really funny.  It reminded me of the first Naked Gun movie. Just one joke after another and they all made me laugh.

It’s not as inventive or creative as Lego or Mr Peabody and Sherman which also made me laugh but I was thoroughly entertained by the film and the kids around me were laughing long and hard.

Like I said, it is a spoof on spy movies with the penguins Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) on the case to track down an Octopus named Dave (John Malcovich) who is trying to kidnap the penguins because all the zoo patrons think they are so cute.

octovious dave

Our intrepid crew is aided by a band of high tech super spies called the North Wind led by a wolf named Classified who is voiced brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch (not that many celebrity voices in this, which was refreshing).

The-Penguins-of-Madagascar-North-Wind-Headquarters-Clip-3They go through all kinds of hijinks but the plot is really secondary as is the animation, which does the job it needs to do.

With a movie like this you either think it’s funny and laugh or you don’t.  Everyone has a different sense of humor, so all I can say is that I laughed a lot. So job well done!

It also doesn’t have any of that cheeky ‘wink wink’ tawdry humor other Dreamworks films have (like Shrek).  I really hate that.  Most of the jokes are word humor like when they make fun of Dave’s ordinary name for a super-villain or when Dave skypes in and his audio doesn’t work.  It’s a very tightly written funny script.

I’d be curious to know if you all found it funny. Like I said, humor is so subjective and there isn’t a ton else to recommend this film.  Let me know what you think!

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Overall Grade- B (I’d give Peabody and Sherman a B+ and Lego Movie an A+ because both made me laugh a lot and were more visually inventive than Penguins but they are all great fun!)

This makes it the 12 animated film I’ve seen out of 2014 and so far I’d rate them- Lego Movie, Tale of Princess Kaguya, Big Hero 6, Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Mr Peabody and Sherman, Book of Life, Penguins of Madagascar, Rio 2, Planes: Search and Rescue, The Nut Job, Legends of Oz.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the year! Only 2 I didn’t enjoy on some level. Hope you have too.