Having been (self) deprived of a television for the past, oh, year or so, I've explored various means of replacing this form of entertainment. Lately, I've been watching more movies. That's partly because I'm a fan of both the Hitchhiker's Guide and Star Wars, well, a reluctant fan these days of the latter.
Anyway, I've been lately rather stressed, so I decided to go for some more irrelevant humour fare, and that led me to watch the children's movie, Madagascar by DreamWorks. And I have to say that I enjoyed this 3D animation.
DreamWorks is the studio that made Shrek, and that was funny, except that the moral was a little too cliché: that beauty is the eye of the beholder and a reversal of the Ugly Duckling moral. Madagascar manages to find a less overused moral, and actually a quite comparatively complex one: the possible consequences of harmless self-indulgence on those who love the indulger and the need to exercise self-restraint and transcend our baser natures. Aside from this, however, the premise is original and entertaining for a children's movie.
The movie begins with four neighbours and close friends, with very New York accents and attitudes: Alex, Gloria, Melman, and Marty. They are neighbours...in that their pens are in the same area of the New York Central Park Zoo. Yes, it is that old cartoon stand-by, anthropomorphisation of animals. Alex is a very energetic lion, and he is the mascot of the zoo. He lives a pampered life and is the star of the show. He is completely tame, and loves to play with the children who visit. He lives for the delicious juicy raw steak they feed him repeatedly every day.
Gloria is a no-nonsense hippo who also loves the pampered, sheltered life. Melman is a hypochondriac giraffe whose attention-seeking behaviour gets him a daily, anticipated CAT scan and huge quantities of pills. Marty is a zebra, and he is Alex's best friend.
It's Marty's 10th birthday, and he is having a mid-life crisis (I presume zebras only live 20 years). He wants to experience the wild. And a group of escaping psychotic military penguins inspires him to attempt to leave the zoo temporarily---to experience the wild in Connecticut. How does try to escape? Via New York's train system. His friends panic when they find out about it and try to chase him through the system scaring the People (with whom they cannot communicate) in the process.
Eventually they are all subdued by the People using tranquilizer darts, only to find themselves being shipped to Kenya, since the People have decided that they want to be free. This is exactly the opposite of what Alex wanted---he is now totally deprived of his life as the King of New York. The military penguins instigate a series of events that lead them to being stranded on the coast of Madagascar.
Marty is happy: he is in the wild, and he is learning to enjoy it. Gloria and Melman eventually adapt too. Alex sulks, but then he cheers up and tries to enjoy it as well. But...there's a problem. No steak. And as his primal feeding instincts try to take over, Alex realizes what steak really is (he never knew, it appeared magically in the zoo), and that his closest friends are also his natural source of sustenance.
I find this actually pretty brave for a children's movie: viewing the world sympathetically from the point of view of a hungry lion, especially once you've anthropomorphized his prey as well. But, like I said, a lot of the gags in the movie are pretty funny. Even though eating your friends is not what you probably want kids to think about, this deals with Alex's dilemma in a funny and sensitive way, and eventually provides a solution to the problem before it gets too serious. But I like stories where the main character eventually has to realize that he is a monster and come to terms with the dilemma of his existence.