- Reviewed by: Avril Carruthers
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Current Rating 6.38/10 | 169 Votes
Produced by Mireille Soria
Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric The Entertainer, Andy Richter
Four smart-talking New Yorkers, who happen to be animals - Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippopotamus - have lived all their lives in New York's Central Park Zoo. Only Marty (voiced by Chris Rock), realising on his 10th birthday that he has spent half his life there, hankers after the wild he only knows about from the jungle mural painted opposite his enclosure. The others are all happy with a life which resembles more a performing circus than a zoo. They have become used to ‘show time’ – performing for the sheep-like human visitors who flock around them every day. A series of unusual events finds the four on the loose in
The characters talk very fast and the 3-D computer-animated action is zippy and cartoon-like in the way we are used to in 2-D animation. Employing ‘squash and stretch’ effects technically much more difficult with computer graphics than in the traditional hand-drawn animated cartoons, there is high amusement value especially where the gawky, all-legs-and-neck, giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) appears.
In keeping with the cartoon genre where the incongruent and impossible are utilised for comic effect, the zoo where we first meet them is unlike any real zoo you may have visited. Marty has a treadmill in his enclosure and all the animals have plenty of space. Gourmet meals are served in silver chafing dishes with domed lids moulded in the shape of the animals’ heads, brought to them on trolleys by snooty waiters of the kind normally employed by five star hotels. The hypochondriac giraffe Melman, however, is served a tray containing a multitude of vitamin bottles and medicines. The children in the audience loved it and the adults chuckled.
The four main characters are all well defined. Alex (Ben Stiller) is the consummate showman revelling in his role as the King of beasts, with all the ‘Alex merchandise’ (a cheeky take-off on Disney ‘Lion King’ merchandising) which accompanies it. He reminds the other three that Friday is Seniors Day at the zoo, when he has to roar ‘extra loud’. Alex enjoys making a show of being scary without any idea of his true predatory nature, since his meals are all served to him without his ever having to wonder where the succulent steaks may have come from, or even that they have originated in quadrupeds such as his best friend Marty the zebra.
Marty is a little morose at the moment though not letting on, because he feels the call of the wild without ever having been there. The opening sequence is a reverie of Marty’s, in an idyllic pastoral wilderness where he canters to a cheesy symphonic chorale of ‘Born Free’. In contrast, Alex’s dreams are of himself lying, á la American Beauty, in a bed of red steaks instead of roses.
Melman is an amusing hypochondriac constantly having MRI scans and medical examinations. He also has a surprising, though patchy, knowledge of the world outside the zoo, which comes in handy when one of them is ‘lost’ in
Apart from the four main characters there are two monkeys, one with an upper class English accent and his mute companion who can both read and use sign language to communicate, who also take the opportunity to escape. The most sophisticated characters and the funniest for the adults in the audience are four military commando-like penguins who form the spearhead of the escape from the zoo. Not only do they orchestrate the escape in a hilarious spy-action spoof, they also hijack the container ship on which they are being shipped to Africa, taking it more appropriately to
Shortly after arriving on the
The main comedy centres on the fish-out-of-water angle and especially on Alex’s dawning realisation, through his increasing hunger, that he is actually one of the bad guys, a meat-eater. The serious truths on which the comedy rests are in his discovering the wild, ravening beast within and reconciling that with a socially acceptable, ‘civilised’ way of life where he can remain friends with herbivores and ruminants – something plainly against the nature of such beasts born in the wild – as well as fulfilling his truly noble ‘kingly’ nature while the other beasts discover theirs.
Both children and adults in the screening I attended laughed and chuckled throughout the movie and emerged smiling. The last joke rests with the penguins in another classic sight gag and the final credits are humorously animated to the dance number ‘Move It’. Clever and fun, it almost equals Shrek and equals Shark Tale, productions from the same talented team at Dreamworks Animation, though with the more traditional 2-D cartoon feel of broad-based, slapstick and sight-gag comedy.
© Avril Carruthers 31st May 2005
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