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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath|
scr Mark Burton, Billy Frolick, Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
voices Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Conrad Vernon, Tom McGrath, Christopher Knights, Chris Miller, Eric Darnell
release US 27.May.05, UK 15.Jul.05
05/US DreamWorks 1h29
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Melman, Marty, Alex and Gloria
This thoroughly enjoyable animated comedy from the makers of Antz and Ren & Stimpy has a sharp enough script to keep us laughing all the way through, with vivid characters and a wonderfully silly adventure plot. It's gleefully entertaining fluff with absolutely no depth at all.
Four animals in New York's Central Park Zoo have never known life in the wild, so naturally they're curious. But Alex the lion (Stiller) loves being the star of the show, Melman the giraffe (Schwimmer) is terrified of everything, Gloria the hippo (Smith) is the sensible mother hen, and Marty the Zebra (Rock) is the adventurer whose dreams (along with four hilariously scheming penguins) cause a chain of events that leave our heroes on a deserted island off the coast of Africa. Of course they haven't a clue what to do.
Sharply written characters spring from the script and make the most of the casting without resorting to starry references. As a result, we quickly become involved in the adventure, and the interactions between animals become increasingly funny, reaching a crescendo with the arrival of the hysterical lemur king (Cohen) and his sidekick (Cedric). But even these aren't mere comic foils--they play important roles in the rather thin story. Only Alex is given some depth, when his instincts kick in and threaten to turn his best friend into dinner.
Vocal work is excellent, clearly including quite a bit of improvisation that brings scenes flamboyantly to life and makes all the characters hugely likable (the filmmakers thankfully omit the stereotypical villain). The design is extremely creative--the characters look properly cartoonish, not pseudo-realistic. But even with high-quality artwork, the technical quality is definitely sub-Shrek. Not that it really matters when we're having this much fun. The high point of the film is the elaborate hijacking of the ship by the penguins, who can't understand why they're being sent to Africa, so decide to head for Antarctica instead. With hilarious results. These side characters are a work of true genius, and deserve a film all their own.
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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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