DreamWorks is certainly a unique animation studio. Since they were formed in 1994, they've been through many different eras and put out some interesting movies. Before they made "Kung Fu Panda" and "How to Train Your Dragon" that broke them from the mold put on to them by "Shrek", they made a lot of animated comedies that didn't have the emotional grasp that Pixar had but certainly had a bunch of laughs up their sleeves. One of the most prime examples of this is "Madagascar". Despite the initial reviews from critics being mixed at the time, the film became another huge hit for the studio and spawned a very successful franchise that consisted of two sequels that eventually formed a trilogy, a spin-off film as well as many spin-off TV shows. I really loved this film as a kid and after rewatching it again, I can say that I still easily enjoy it. It's certainly not a perfect film and I have easily picked up on its flaws, but it just has such passionate energy and hilarious humor that I can't help but enjoy it. I think this is still a fun film.
Our four heroes which consist of a lion named Alex (Ben Stiller), a zebra named Marty (Chris Rock), a giraffe name Melman (David Schwimmer), and a hippo named Gloria (Jada Pickett Smith) have been living normal lives at the Central Park Zoo in New York City entertaining the zoo's visitors every day. While Alex, Melman, and Gloria have been enjoying their daily routines, Marty has grown bored and has been wanting to do more with his life. After encountering some penguins that plan to escape the zoo and head for Antarctica, Marty plans to leave the zoo at night to be in the wild for a day. When the other three try to stop him, they end up scaring the people in the city and are eventually cornered in Grand Central Station, boxed up in crates, and are sent off to Africa to live on a preserve. However, after the penguins hijack the boat and plan to sail it to Antarctica, our four heroes are thrown overboard and wash up on the shores of Madagascar where they encounter a group of crazy lemurs led by the wild King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) who plan to use them to scare off the fossa clan that has been terrorizing them. From there, Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria have to figure out how to adjust to wildlife while figuring how to get back to New York City.
I'm perfectly well aware that this is not a perfect animated movie. I don't think that I would consider this one of DreamWorks' best films, but I just can't help but enjoy this film due to how well it's made. The story isn't incredibly strong, but elements of the film really help make it fun. Directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath bring a lot of energy to this film which really helps elevate it given how the story is a little weak. While there's not a lot of stakes to be found in this film as it does go all over the place at times and doesn't feel fully concrete, the energy is always fast-paced and exhilarating that it never gets boring. All the scenes in this film have at least one memorable moment that helps keep it afloat and they don't drag out too long or overstay their welcome. Every scene feels perfectly paced and well crafted which certainly makes up for the plot being confusingly constructed. It also helps that the humor in this film is really funny. There are a lot of memorable jokes in this film that I was laughing quite hard at certain moments during the film. One of the prime examples is the scene where the penguins get to Antarctica and stand there silent for a moment before Private turns to the others and declares that Antarctica sucks. The jokes are perfectly timed and there are lots of laughs that keep coming and coming in the film. As far as the animation goes, it's easily the best part of this film. It's held up exceptionally well save for a couple of props and also benefits from having a lot of traits that came from television animation and fast-paced animated shorts from the 40s and 50s. The highlight is easily the character designs by Craig Kellman which are so beautifully designed that they feel like traditionally drawn cartoony characters brought perfectly to life by the computer. The characters do a lot of quick actions that feel straight out of an old "Tom and Jerry" or "Looney Tunes" cartoon and have a lot of hilarious animated expressions that make the film feel very unique for the time. A lot of the fast-paced computer-animated movies of today like "Despicable Me" and "Hotel Transylvania" have this film to thank. As far as the characters go, I really still love all of them with how funny and memorable they are. Despite most of the characters, save for Alex, not really have an arc until the sequels, they still have a lot of memorable traits in this film and have perfect chemistry together. They all have different personalities with Alex being cocky, Marty being energetic, Melman being a neurotic, and Gloria being confident that they balance each other out perfectly. It also helps that the four actors work well off each other. Even King Julien, Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), and Mort (Andy Richter) have some fun moments even if they don't get a whole lot of screen time. It just added up to a fun time.
That's how I'd perfectly describe "Madagascar". A fun time. The story might not be entirely well constructed and is uneven but is balanced by radiant energy, the animation is wild and exhilarating and holds up incredibly well, and the characters are all fun and enjoyable to watch even if they lack proper character arcs. Even though the film is flawed, I still really enjoy this film and had a fun time watching. It was a great start to a fun animated trilogy and a wildly fun film to watch.