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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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'Madagascar' Has Blockbuster Written All Over It
Jimmy Moore
May 16, 2005

It's funny how you can tell when a movie studio thinks it has a blockbuster on its hands.  In the weeks leading up to the film's release, the "buzz" thing rapidly begins to spread.  The movie trailer is playing on television every other commercial, a major restaurant chain features the film prominently in its stores and advertising, and you even see the characters from the movie pop up on the products you buy at the supermarket.

And when the movie studio is Dreamworks, you better believe there are plenty of high expectations for the movie to do just as well as its hit predecessors.  After all, you might have heard of a few of their previous animated tales, including "Shrek," "Shrek 2," and "Shark Tale," just to name a few. Those are some mighty big shoes to fill!

So, it is with great anticipation that everyone is awaiting the May 27th release of "Madagascar," the latest story of adventure featuring funny talking animals voiced by some Hollywood's most famous people in television and movies, including Ben Stiller ("Meet the Fockers," "Meet the Parents"), Chris Rock ("Dr. Doolittle," "Osmosis Jones"), David Schwimmer (NBC-TV's "Friends"), and Jada Pinkett Smith (The "Matrix" films, "The Nutty Professor"). 

I had the enormous privilege of being a part of an early sneak peek at this new film that will undoubtedly be one of the summer's biggest movies because of its mass appeal to kids and adults alike.  It won't be nearly as big as the much-heralded and over-hyped release of "Star Wars Episode III:  Revenge of the Sith," but frankly "Madagascar" is not competing for the same audience as that movie.  This family-friendly film was deliberately made for those looking for the lighter side of life rather than the dark side!  Sorry Darth Vader!

The story features the adventures of the self-obsessed Alex the Lion (Stiller), the dreamer Marty the Zebra (Rock), the temperamental, but caring Gloria the Hippo (Smith), and the goofball Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer) as they live their lives at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. 

Encouraged by a group of conspiracy-theorist penguins, Marty is convinced that there's got to be more to life than performing in front of people at the zoo everyday.  That's why, with a little help from the penguins, he plans his escape from the zoo so he can catch a train to Connecticut, where he has been told there are lots of open spaces where he can run free.  When Marty runs away in the middle of the night, Alex, Gloria and Melman go after him to convince him that life isn't so bad where they are.  They all meet up with Marty at Grand Central Station where the entire New York City police and fire department completely surround them and foil their plans.

The next thing this foursome knows, they are packed in crates headed on a ship for Africa along with the penguins.  But the industrious penguins take over the ship from the captain because they want to go to Antarctica to be in their natural habitat.  As they turn the ship around in the opposite direction, all the crates with the main characters in them go flying into the water and they end up stranded on the island of Madagascar.  While they initially think they are at the San Diego Zoo, it doesn't take the characters long to realize they actually landed in the "wild."  You'll have to watch the movie for yourself to find out the exciting conclusion about what happens to them when they get stranded on an island and are forced to live on their own for the first time away from the comforts of the zoo. You'll laugh your head off at the antics of the animals they encounter in this strange place.

While I thought the story line was not nearly as interesting as "Shrek" was, I was pleaseed to take away three key underlying themes that reverberate throughout "Madagascar" that make it worthwhile viewing for people of all ages.

First, it underlines people's insatiable desire for change.  When Marty looks at what he thinks is a mundane life in the zoo, all he can think about is how much better off he would be if he were only allowed to be free.  If you have children, especially teenagers, then I'm sure you have heard similar comments from them.  Interestingly, though, once Marty gets to experience what the world has to offer him, he realized that his life at the zoo wasn't so bad after all.  We could all learn to be more content with where we are in life.

The second message is similar to the first one, but a little different.  It is fact that what you want isn't always what you expect it to be.  Just as Marty wanted to run free in the "wild," the penguins wanted to be in their own habitat in Antarctica (or at least that's what they thought!). 

A funny and poignant moment in the movie came when the penguins reached their destination in Antarctica and are standing next to the ship in a blizzard with the wind and snow howling all around them.  After about ten seconds of standing there shivering in the very place they dreamed about their entire lives, one of them utters out loud, "This sucks!"  It just goes to show you that some people can become so energized and obsessed by the pursuit of their own self-ambitions that they end up being disappointed when they finally get what they've always wanted. 

Finally, the third message is that friendship sustains relationships even when they are greatly challenged.  When Alex was at the zoo, he got to eat all the steak he wanted.  But when he was let loose on the island with nothing to eat and started getting hungry for those steaks he was used to getting, everything started looking like fresh meat to him, including his friends (Alex even bites Marty in the rear -- literally! OUCH!). 

But after some deep soul-searching, Alex was able to control his urge to eat his friends alive by remembering that they are the ones who stood by him his entire life and remained his friends even during the difficult times.  It's a lesson we can all learn as we try to live together in a world full of real predators who want to cause harm to us.

"Madagascar" is definitely a keeper, although I was a bit disappointed the movie ended so quickly.  This PG-rated film was just a little bit longer than 75 minutes and left you hanging for more at the end.  I guess that's the sign of a great movie.

And I was pleasantly surprised that Rock did such a "crackalackin'" good job playing, as Donkey from "Shrek" would put it, the "annoying talking animal" part in this movie.  Just like Eddie Murphy experienced following his voicing of Donkey with the release of family-oriented movies like "Daddy Day Care" and "Haunted Mansion," Rock may be asked to participate in more of these kind of films in the future.  Yet, that will depend on whether he can clean up his act like Murphy did.  We shall see.

If you haven't caught the "buzz" behind "Madagascar" yet, then all you have to do is just open your eyes.  The movie trailer is already playing all over the television right now, the film is being prominently featured in a national cross-promotional marketing campaign at Denny's restaurants, and I even saw a "Madagascar" cookie dough package from Pillsbury at my local grocery store this week.

These are all clear signs that "Madagascar" has blockbuster written all over it!

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I vowed not to see this movie after having to sit through the excruciating preview that was "hard coded" onto a DVD I recently rented, Ice Age I think. Ice Age was lame and this looked lame as well. . . .

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