Review By JENNIFER GANNETT
Opening to the song “Born Free,” “Madagascar” follows the adventures of Marty the zebra, Alex the lion, Gloria the hippopotamus and Melman the giraffe. Denizens of the Central Park Zoo, they and their neighbors have varying degrees of affection for the institution. When Marty happens upon a group of penguins working to stage an escape, he is motivated to contemplate going to the wild. When he shares his idea with his friends, it becomes evident that no one has a clear understanding of what the wild is or why Marty would want to go there instead of living the portrayed “good life” at the zoo. The group comes to a consensus that the wild is in Connecticut, and Marty soon sneaks off to Grand Central Station to try to catch a train. As Marty strolls through the Upper East Side, his friends take the subway in pursuit. The levity ends at the station as the animals encounter scary SWAT teams. Sedated and crated, they are being transferred to another zoo…or so they believe. They are on a cargo ship and their destination (thanks to animal rights “crazies,” a newscast informs us) is a wildlife preserve in Kenya.
When the crates fall overboard, the animals wash up on the shores of Madagascar (though they are at first firmly convinced they’ve arrived at the San Diego Zoo due to the naturalistic “exhibits” and the beach). They encounter dangerous fossas and spirited lemurs and just as they are reconciling themselves to being in the wild, a problem occurs: Alex and Marty are, in the wild, predator and prey. When all around him begins looking like steak, Alex lives exiled in the fossas’ territory to avoid causing harm to his friends. The penguins, having been on an adventure themselves, eventually help solve the problem by providing an expansive sushi dinner for Alex. However, the friends decide that they would rather return to the zoo, and the movie ends with them attempting to do just that (little knowing that they will be thwarted by the penguins).
This movie is incredibly rich with discussion opportunities for compassionate kids. There are opportunities to dig deeply into the roles of zoos in our society. Why are animals from Africa are in the middle of New York? How does that feel for them? Why were they concerned about a zoo transfer? What does it mean for Melman that he feels so sick all of the time? What is the conservation status of lions, zebras, hippos, giraffes, penguins, lemurs and fossas? What would it feel like for a zebra to really be housed next to a lion? The number of animal issues that are mentioned in this movie are too numerous to enumerate here- they come fast and furious. The plot is loose in some areas, some of the content is of questionable importance and appropriateness and I certainly don’t love the animals’ decision to try to return to the zoo but we enjoyed this movie. I would like to see a similarly funny movie done with an even more animal friendly tone. As an aside, it is a special treat for those who have lived or worked in or even just enjoyed a visit to Manhattan!