‘Madagascar’ makes it just fresh enough | PostIndependent.com

‘Madagascar’ makes it just fresh enough

Dan Thomas
Post Independent Staff

Maybe the best word I can think of to describe “Madagascar” is “breathtaking,” and if you didn’t think was that good, bear with me while I explain.

I didn’t think it was that good, either.

Rather, there’s a specific reason I used the word “breathtaking” instead of, say, “incredible,” and it actually has more to do with an old television show than a new movie. Remember the episode of “Seinfeld” where they’re in the Hamptons, and the doctor calls both the hideous baby they’ve got to see and Elaine “breathtaking,” and she’s not sure how to take it?

Put “Madagascar” up next to any cartoon from 1993 or earlier, and the b-word is wholly appropriate for describing the colorful world computer animation has allowed the artists to create. It’s perfect for the loving detail they put into the fuzzy animal characters, enough so you can discern the face of, say, Cedric the Entertainer in the lemur he voices. It’s an apt description for a movie that includes a funny, cute mini-cartoon about the food chain that probably would have necessitated its own team of animators and stood alone as a feature 30 years ago.

Thing is, though, that’s true of just about everything from Pixar or Dreamworks SKG. That means the brilliant (“The Incredibles”) must distinguish itself from the witless (“Shark Tale”) with something other than the way it looks. Oranges to oranges, “Madagascar” lands somewhere between those two poles, maybe a shade less clever than last winter’s sly “Robots.” Since celebrity voiceovers and computer animation are no longer groundbreaking, it’s the characters and the scripts that set those two movies apart.

On one hand, “Madagascar” might as well be the result of a checklist for making a computer-animated summer movie: Cute characters with the voices of funny celebrities? (Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Andy Richter as a lion, zebra, giraffe and penguin, respectively) ” Check. Major studio behind the expensive animation? (Dreamworks) ” Check. Litany of pop culture references? (“Cast Away,” all things New York and “Lord of the Flies” this time) ” Check.

But for as much as it follows what have become the new conventions for animated crowd-pleasers, “Madagascar” has an aura of easygoing fun about it. It’s more than a hodgepodge of bad jokes and desperate hipness.

Still, everybody’s got an animation team these days, so great-looking animation is the new industry standard, which makes it hard to keep it fresh just by looking good. Lest we forget: “Breathtaking” also means suffocating.

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