A hilarious romp! Starting in Central Park's zoo, this animated feature by Dreamworks charts the course of a quartet of zoo animals (a lion, a zebra, a hippo, and a giraffe) raised in captivity as a mishap causes the curators to try to repatriate them to Kenya. Ben Stiller does a star turn as the vainglorious urban lion, Alex. Chris Rock is over the top as his best friend, the stir-crazy zebra, Marty. Jada Pinkett Smith is brilliant as the take-no-crap hippo, and David Schwimmer is a delightfully hypochondriac giraffe. The supporting cast of lemurs and fossas are excellent. The penguins alone are worth the movie ticket or the DVD! They're ompletely demented, as good movie penguins should be. I will definitely be getting this one. It's worth seeing in the theatre if you still can.
The plot is nice and tight. There are some predictable moments but also quite a few touching ones. The accents are simply amusing and, while there are some cultural stereotypes, I doubt that they will be bothersome to anyone as those in The Lion King (1994) were to some. The dialogue will become dated in time, as Dreamworks favors pop-culture references here even more than they did in Shrek (2001). The upside is that everything here is quite fresh, and there is something for everyone. Many in-jokes will go sailing right over the little tots' heads, but if you take your kids or little siblings and cousins, you'll find plenty to laugh about together.
The music is light and entertaining. Watch for the lemur king's dance during the film and the closing credits; it cracked me up both times. Dreamworks makes terrific, memorable casting choices, easily the rivals of Disney and Pixar now. Unlike their archrivals, though, they tend to go for cutesy techno dance pieces instead of grand arias cf. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996).
As a CG practitioner and research, I have to rate this file quite highly. The technique is generally pretty simple, but it is used to good effect. Dreamworks has an "angular" modeling and shading style in its 3-D computer animated features, compared to Pixar's more "rounded" CGA style as seen in Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998) and Finding Nemo (2003). This was a little jarring in Antz (1998) but is starting to grow on me. Look for the rivalry to continue in Cars (2006) and Shrek 3 (2007).
9.0 / 10