Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Dreamworks Animation SKG
Blu-ray: Dreamworks Animation SKG Home Entertainment
Runtime: 86 minu
Size: 50 GB
Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case
Release date: September 23, 2008
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Video codec: AVC
English 5.1 Dolby True HD: English, Spanish & Portuguese
English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
• Commentary with Directors Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath
• Mad Trivia Pop-Up
• The Penguins in
• Mad Mishaps (1:30) in HD
• Penguin Chat (8:43) in HD
• Meet the Wild Cast (7:47) in SD
• Behind the Crates (23:16) in SD
• The Tech of Madagascar (4:59) in SD
• Enchanted Island (7:50) in SD
• Dreamworks Animation Video Jukebox
You can tell when a movie studio has made it into the
consciousness of its public. Madagascar is touted "From
the studio that brought you Shrek and Shark Tale" - not,
mind you, "from Dreamworks Animation." Can you imagine a
new animated feature from Walt Disney being advertised
as "From the studio that brought you Cinderella and Lady
and the Tramp!" You don't see that sort of language on
the video boxes of The Lion King, The Little Mermaid or
Mulan. On the other hand, Disney still felt it necessary
to bring Ratatouille to everyone's attention with "From
the creators of Cars and The Incredibles "– meaning
Pixar, not Disney.
Pixar, of course, is Dreamworks Animation's number one
competitor and, Oscars, aside, has to be recognized as
the number one studio working today in 3-D computer
animation. There are a number of interesting differences
between the approaches of these two studios: the target
audience for Dreamworks is younger and still have their
heads in the toilet, and Pixar's imagery and storylines
are far denser. More on this last a little later.
While Madagascar earned its keep eventually, it never
had the success of a Shrek or Shrek 2. All the same,
except maybe for one nagging point, it's pretty good
family entertainment - that point being the question of
diet – or, to put the matter in more political terms,
what is or is not OK to eat?
The movie starts off in the Central Park Zoo where its
star attractions, Alex the lion and Marty the zebra, are
having a heady discussion about what's out there. Alex
(voiced by Ben Stiller) is perfectly content being the
king of his small, protected island where he is fed
neatly trimmed steaks. Marty (Chris Rock) has other
ideas and soon finds his way into the streets and byways
of Manhattan, where Alex, together with his friends,
Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the
hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are in hot pursuit before
Marty finds himself in big trouble.
Once caught, he quartet are transferred, not to another
zoo as they imagine, but to the Kenya Wildlife preserve.
But the penguins have plans to divert the giant cargo
ship to Antarctica. In the melee, crates are dashed into
the sea and our four friends are beachwrecked on what
turns out to be Madagascar. Utterly clueless about how
to survive in The Wild, they come across a tribe of
lemurs and their mortal enemies, the foosa [sic] . . .
which brings us to the question of diet.
No small part of the plot revolves around how our four
novices will make do without being fed by people. As
Alex begins to revert, he sees steaks everywhere,
including the lemurs and, heaven forbid, Marty. Clearly,
it is not OK to eat one's friend, but what about
creatures you only just met (the lemurs) or their
enemies. The filmmakers are on dangerous footing here,
but solve the matter with a clever sleight of hand:
evidently, it's not OK to eat creatures you've had
conversations with, but steaks are not a problem. Could
be a good jumping off point for a discussion with one's
children about their food chain. Do you suppose anyone
takes the hint?
Like Pixar, there is plenty of stuff here for the
adults; and though Madagascar tends to rely on cultural
references more than Pixar, thejokes are frequent and
are generally worth a smile or a LOL, such as when Marty
hustles down the sidewalk, a la John Travolta, to the
music of Saturday Night Fever. I might add that I think
Ben Stiller has finally found a role that allows him to
stretch, demonstrating talents never before seen. Could
be the start of something for him. Sacha Baron Cohen was
outstanding as King Julien the lemur.
The first number indicates a relative level of
excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a
ten-point scale. The second number places this image
along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.
Compared to Pixar, Dreamworks has never been big on
backgrounds, though the Dreamworks animators certainly
put considerably more effort in this department than
Blue Sky's Ice Age. The scenes at the zoo are curiously
two-dimensional, until we realize the intention is
probably to contrast that experience to the wild as our
heroes get further from the zoo and closer to nature.
Also, unlike Pixar, there is never a real effort in this
movie to integrate mass and its effects. The animals
always feel more like cut-outs, unlike Shrek, as if
rendered from a children's book.
The blu-ray does an excellent job at maintaining
saturation, contrast, edge definition and great looking
blacks, though not as sharp as the best animation I've
seen in high def. One of the sequences that shows off
the best this movie has to offer is the scene at Grand
Central Station where our quartet is apprehended by an
oversized tactical unit.
Audio & Music:
The 5.1 Dolby True improves on the DVD 5.1 mix, but
there's not all that much there to start with. Even
ambiance, which could have suggested the size and
texture of the jungle canopy, compared to what was
possible and expected (by me anyhow), are not all that
much in evidence.
Couldn't be easier, though the fonts were small so as to
fit all those extra features on a single screen.
The extras from the DVD are imported over to the blu-ray.
These include a detailed commentary by the film's two
directors about production details and voice characters,
several kid-targeted featurettes (my favorite being the
Penguins in A Christmas Caper), and a few more bits
about production, the least good of which is "The Tech
of Madagascar." "Enchanted Island" – unhappily in only
fair SD – is worthy to learn more about the real
Madagascar and how it fit into the movie.
Pretty good fun for the kids, along with contemporary
gags for the adults. The blu-ray image is very good, the
sound good enough, but not top drawer.
September 20, 2008