Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Too much to be found out there in the wild

Fed up with accomplishing little despite a frantic day, I went to see the late show of Madagascar last night. (I'm a sucker for nebbishy animated lions.) All in all, it's not bad. It doesn't attempt to be epic; it's the kind of light, quasi-Vaudevillean fare that could usefully be likened to the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road movies. A bit like The Emperor's New Groove, too, in that respect. I'm also fascinated by PDI's work with the CG here. While not as technically proficient as Pixar, they're carving out a niche with interesting stylization. The danger with computer animation - and it's a trap that most all recent non-Pixar releases have fallen into - is creating lifeless, plasticky stick figures. As far as I'm concerned, that's worse than mediocre TV-quality traditional animation; at least that has some heart, some direct connection to the work of the animators. Bad CG is just soulless (q.v. Disney's 2000 release Dinosaur), and undistinguished CG with an uninteresting story (q.v. PDI's release of last October, Shark Tale) isn't much better. That's why it's refreshing to see a nice, sweet, self-contained little sitcom-like playlet (one sequence in particular of Madagascar - see it, and you'll know exactly which one - is particularly non-cinematically theatrical) with punchy, clean designs. For example: Look at the nostrils - Fibonacci spirals of various shapes. Or this shot, where Alex the lion has a perfectly angular, shrubbery-like mane. I enjoy that kind of interestingly geometric stylization; it adds visual presence to what could otherwise be dully realistic modeling. As far as casting goes, the four main characters are fine as whiny, neurotic Manhattanites; they could have stepped out of an early Woody Allen film. (Before he started taking himself so seriously, of course.) Andy Richter - twice lately a victim of the Fox Network sitcom grinder - is wasted, sadly. Sacha Baron Cohen is spiffy as the deranged king of the lemurs. And the penguins - oh, the penguins. I wouldn't have minded an entire film concerning the commando POW-like penguins and their Great Escape-ish shenanigans. In a more perfect universe, that's what this entire movie was, I think. For animation buffs, it's probably worth a matinee or otherwise discounted show. Everyone else could usefully wait for a rental or the eventual network premiere, though.

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