Madagascar Mediocre, Sandler Stumbles
Featuring a whole zoo full of celebrity voice talents—Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, and more—Dreamworks' latest animated feature, Madagascar, refused to be crushed by the Dark Side of the Force. It scored an impressive opening weekend (approximately $61 million), not far behind Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith ($70 million), which held on to the top spot for the second straight week.
In his first directorial effort since 1998's underrated Antz, Eric Darnell delivers a story about the misadventures of mismatched creature companions who have escaped the extravagant luxuries of New York's Central Park zoo in order to seek their natural habitats. Together, Alex the Lion (Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Rock), Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Pinkett Smith) cause enough trouble to earn them a one-way tickets to Kenya. But the voyage runs into trouble, and they wind up in … well, check the title.
Camerin Courtney (Christianity Today Movies) says, "As the movie progresses, the humor threshold gets lower and lower. And just as the movie runs out of steam, the final credits save the day."
She also writes, "Though it might seem nitpicky to note plot flaws in a cartoon, all I really want is a moral to the story—a pretty standard element in kid flicks, no? In Finding Nemo: Don't let fear rule your life. In Shrek: True beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. In Madagascar: well, I'm not really sure. Don't eat your friends? Be a vegetarian? Don't stray too far from home because your more animal instincts will take over? Deny your natural makeup for the good of your friends—and society at large?"
Peter T. Chattaway, a regular critic at Christianity Today Movies, reviewed Madagascar for CanadianChristianity.com. It's a positive review, but perhaps his most interesting observation is that the movie "had me wondering about the place of the food chain in Christian thought. Psalm 104 celebrates how lions 'roar for their prey and seek their food from God,' but Isaiah 11 and 65 say lions will become peaceful vegetarians when the messianic age dawns. To what degree are these passages poetic, and to what degree are they meant to be taken literally? … Madagascar hardly settles these themes, but it explores them in an interesting way."
Jonathan Rodriguez (Christian Spotlight) sees the film as highlighting "the importance of friendship." And he confesses, "Madagascar made me laugh quite a bit, which I wasn't really expecting from this particular animated film. I suspect that parents may enjoy it just as much as their children."
"Visually, Madagascar is a delight," writes David DiCerto (Catholic News Service). But he says the beginning is stronger than what follows. "Once the action switches to the island setting, the film's sharp wit gives way to a slapstick brand of broad cartoon comedy which, though quite funny at times, is more sight gags than story."
Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says the film's message is "buried and weak," and tries to explain it: "Madagascar seems to be saying that we should be happy wherever we are in life, and that we should recognize the importance of loyalty and friendship. In a nod to animal activists, it also points to the beastly nature of animals, and how we can only tame that nature so much." She expects it will "please families and children alike."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) says, "This animated feature lampoons stories that sentimentalize the wild kingdom. Still, you leave the theater wondering what result you were supposed to root for—that the animals make it back to their safe zoo existence or learn to live 'authentically' as wild animals." The screenplay, he observes, seems to have been "written by a committee." But he's happy to see "the power of friendship and self-sacrifice" exalted.