Animated movies don't need much of a story. It's always just treatment all the way. There are two simple questions you need to ask yourself if you want to see your animated venture come out right. Is the animation at the next level of spellbinding? Are the dialogues funny and well-rendered? That's it. If you have these two elements right, you know people will flock in droves and recommend it zealously to all and sundry.
Now where does Madagascar score on this scale? The animation here is clearly a hands-down winner. The scenes have, at once, the paradisiacal look of a cartoon movie, and the complexity and fluidity of real life. And the voice cast is 5-star. The story, which didn't really matter in the first place, is completely loaded.
The story, of Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippopotamus who escape from a New York Zoo, are recaptured and sent aboard a ship to Kenya Wildlife Preserve, break out of that as well, and get washed ashore to Madagascar, is good enough to tell without a movie supporting it.
At Madagascar, the foursome run into all the difficulties animals bred in captivity face in the wild. In addition, their instincts begin to take over, imposing food chain dynamics onto the unlikely pack of friends. The lion starts fantasising about eating the zebra, but he can't do it to his friend, causing him great anguish. All this is, however, deftly overcome by Disney-style beneficence of the animal-human. Zebra does not give up on Lion, Lion does not let him down. And both of them fight off their instincts together to get back to their cheery friendship.
A pack of penguins that set about digging an escape tunnel to Antarctica from the Zoo, do a military troops impression and turn out more hilarious than any of the four main characters. Their appearance, however, is so limited, you are constantly hoping they are back on the scene to give some respite from the slapstick humor of the Big Four.
And that brings us to the final element in a successful animation movie. The dialogues. If only Madagascar had taken the cue from any of the Pixar movies on characterising and writing dialogues well. It is in this department that Madagascar completely fails, and ends up rather stretched in places when not much is happening. Instead of the snappy, zingy retorts and comebacks we have come to expect from cartoon movies, we have forced slapstick that sometimes gets difficult to understand.
The penguins and the colony of lemurs are superb, but they are reduced to mere props, story catalysts. That's disappointing, and feels like such a waste of the actors. And you spend most of your time in the movie anticipating their appearance.
All in all, Madagascar will be a wild ride for the kiddies, but has hardly any appeal for the adults. So take you kids here for the weekend outing, but go catch something else while they enjoy themselves.