The Central Park Zoo is the setting for "Madagascar", the latest CGI animated feature from Dreamworks ("Shrek", "Shark Tale" - thankfully, this is far better than "Shark Tale"), which focuses on the animals of the zoo. There's lion Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith). When Marty hits his 10th birthday, he sees the zoo's penguins plan a breakout in an attempt to get back to their natural habitat. Inspired by their quest for freedom, Marty breaks out the next night.
The inhabitants mount a rescue mission, and manage to catch up to Marty at Grand Central (a better choice than Penn Station.) The police end up catching everyone - including a band of chimps. However, animal rights activists protest that this is an example of why animals should not be in captivity. All of the animals wake up the next day thinking they're being transfered to another zoo - when in reality, they're on a ship to Africa.
The crafty penguins attempt to take control of the situation, but end up sending the animal crates overboard, and Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman find themselves washed up on Madagascar, which is populated in the film largely by cute little lemurs, including King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), who sees Alex and his friends as potential protectors from the jungle cats that have been . Conflict comes up when Alex starts to revert back to his jungle ways, and starts viewing his friends as breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Meanwhile, the penguins (the leader of whom is voiced by co-director Tom McGrath, who gives a memorably funny performance) find themselves taking over the ship and steering it towards the Antarctic, which does not turn out to be the paradise that they expected. Upon exiting the ship, they find themselves in the midst of near-whiteout conditions and one simply comments, "Well, this sucks."
After seeing the film several times since the initial theatrical release, I've warmed up to it further. There's definitely enough laughs here for kids and adults, as well as some amusing animated physical comedy. The culture clash moments between the animals and the lemur tribe are also pretty funny, as well, and Baron Cohen's vocal work as King Julien is certainly inspired. The leads - Schwimmer, Rock, Stiller and Pinkett-Smith, also offer great voice work, as well. The animation quality is not up to what audiences have seen in some other recent animated features, but it's at least got its own rather unique style.
VIDEO: "Madagascar" is presented by Dreamworks Animation Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 (1080p). While technically not the most dazzling CGI animated film of recent years, "Madagascar"'s Blu-Ray transfer was quite impressive, improving on the already marvelous DVD release. The picture appeared crystal clear throughout the running time, with small details like hair on the creatures looking crisp and clear. Some small signs in the zoo that I'd never noticed before were now plainly visible on the Blu-Ray.
While some minor noise was spotted in a few scenes, the majority of the film looked smooth and detailed, with no edge enhancement or additional flaws. Colors looked vibrant and rich, showing off a little more pop on the Blu-Ray than they did on the somewhat flatter looking DVD. While not quite perfect, this stood stood out as a demonstration quality presentation. English/English SDH/French/Spanish Portuguese subtitles.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The audio presentation was less impressive than the video, as the sound remained fairly tame throughout the show. Surrounds occasionally added some minor details and ambience (such as one moment where the lemurs scampered through the trees towards a meeting), but opportunities to give the jungle more ambience and atmosphere generally didn't happen. The majority of the audio remained up front, and audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and music. The Dolby TrueHD presentation did offer somewhat improved clarity and more precise detail. "I Like to Move It, Move It" also seemed to have a bit more low-end kick, too. Overall, the Dolby TrueHD presentation offered some minor-to-mild improvements, but I didn't find it to be a vast upgrade from the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. French/Spanish/Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are also included.
EXTRAS: The main supplement is a commentary from directors Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell. The two co-directors provide a very enjoyable track, discussing the development and production of the picture. We also get some information about working with the cast as well as some changes that occured in the film. Overall, the track provided a nice mixture of some technical details along with more fun, lightweight tidbits.
We also get a short commentary from the Penguin characters for their scenes (not as funny as one would hope - presented in HD), animation bloopers (HD), four "making of" featurettes ("Behind the Crates", "Meet the Wild Cast", "Tech of Madagascar" and "Enchanted Island"), production notes and bios. Also included is the new animated short "Christmas Caper" (HD), starring the penguin characters, and the "I Like to Move It, Move It" music video, as well as a section of interactive games/activities.
The only exclusive on the Blu-Ray is an enjoyable trivia track. While a trailer for the sequel (which comes out in November) plays before the movie, I'm pretty surprised that the studio didn't take the chance to put some sort of "behind-the-scenes" featurette regarding the sequel on this Blu-Ray edition.
Final Thoughts: While I thought "Madagascar" was mildly funny upon first viewing, I've warmed up to it in the years since. The film is a little thin (even for a movie like this) on plot, but it offers some terrific sight gags, great voice work and amusing dialogue. The Blu-Ray boasts first-rate video quality, very good audio and a nice selection of supplements. Recommended.
The Film B+