Okay, Madagascar came to Iceland late, so we had already heard earfuls of “it’s too superficial” and “just a bunch of CGI” before the movie got here. This is how it goes with Dreamworks movies, viewed as the slow cousin of Pixar, producers of The Incredibles, Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
Lucky for us, those who import movies to Iceland seem to only take on movies that get abysmal reviews: yes, last summer we got Punisher, Cat Woman and Alexander on as many screens as possible.
But Madagascar has been done wrong, just as Ice Age, and Shark Tale were done wrong before that. First, let’s take the intelligence of a film named Madagascar. True, the film’s writers act on the unusual assumption that Madagascar, a country of 15 million with a remarkable archaeological history going back 2000 years, is uninhabited by humans. But on the bright side, they get this key point: they identify that there is a place called Madagascar, that it is an island, and that it contains lemurs and fossae—the amazing localized fauna that prove so useful in an evolution discussion. Getting a child to talk about lemurs is a step in the right direction. Along those lines, if the child is a little older, you pique the young one’s interest by telling him that courtesy of the BBC, you can watch fossae eat lemurs online, or you can watch fossae have screaming wild fossae sex. (We found archives of both at www.arkive.org.)
Have we sold you on the intelligence thing? No? Well how about the other aspect that Dreamworks does right: they keep their references entirely in the low brow—a possible exception was a Tom Wolfe reference in Madagascar. But that was evened out by the context. Two monkeys escape the zoo, and they discuss seeing Tom Wolfe do a reading. The one monkey, interpreting the other’s sign language, says, “Are we going to throw poop at him? Of course.” Sheer comic brilliance.
The favourite low brow reference includes Saturday morning cartoons– Hanna Barbera’s Help! It’s the Hair Bear Hour — is all over Madagascar’s opening half hour, just as Shark Tale owed a lot to that the high point of Saturday morning cartoons, Jabberjaw. And kudos go to Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G). Playing a party-animal king of the lemurs, Mr. Cohen pulls a direct imitation of Peter Sellers’ vilest, and funniest, comic moment—his role as Indian stereotype Hrundi V. Bakshi in Blake Edward’s The Party (1968).
One reason for strongly recommending Madagascar comes from our perusal of Screen It! (www.screenit.com) a website dedicated to providing information for concerned parents, (with sponsorship from Zoloft and Propel Fitness Water). Screen It! warns parents of “Disrespectful/ Bad Attitude” in the film: “Alex [the lion] develops a bad attitude toward Marty [the Zebra] and the others when they don’t follow his idea… He also tries to eat Marty, but that’s more out of nearly uncontrollable instincts/ urges rather than purposeful malevolence.” The website also warns of 20 acts of violence, which qualifies it for a “moderate” rating.
And of course the biggest reason for recommending Madagascar is really the use of poop jokes. There are two of them in the film, and we are proud to state that we have just progressed in emotional maturity to Freud’s anal stage.
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