ay 31, 2005
STUDIO'S LATEST ANIMATED EFFORT FAILS TO DELIVER
ON VISUAL PROMISE OF SUPERIOR PREDECESSORS
By Imran Syed
For the Daily
Dually influenced by the singular success of
the genre-defying "Shrek
2" and the disappointing
"Shark Tale," the latter of Madagascar
which failed to match the At the Showcase
similar "Finding Nemo" in and Quality 16
both box office and ingenu- DreamWorks
ity, DreamWorks animation
unleashes its latest animated
flick, "Madagascar," in record numbers. It has
4,000 playdates across the country, ambitiously
making it the third-widest release of all time,
behind only "Shrek 2" and "Spiderman 2."
The film follows the misadventures of Alex
the Lion (Ben Stiller, "Meet the Fockers") and his
three best friends and fellow zoo residents, Marty
the Zebra (Chris Rock,"Head ofState"), Gloriathe
Hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith, "The Matrix Reload-
ed) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer,
TV's "Friends"). When he learns of a plot by the
"psychotic" penguins to escape to Antarctica,
Marty begins to dream of returning to the wild.
But after an escape attempt goes awry, the crew
find themselves in Madagascar where they meet
Julian, king of the lemurs (Sacha Baron Cohen,
"Da Ali G Show") and his sidekick, Maurice
(Cedric the Entertainer, "Barbershop"), and learn courtesy ofso eamworks
that the outside world isn't all its cracked up to be. The greatest trick the giraffe ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
From the first scenes, there seems to be some-
thing missing from the film. Part of the problem delivers a worthy performance, bringing many There are two directions a film such as this
are the backgrounds, which take a step backwards of the vocal quirks that made his character on one could have taken: It could have been com-
when compared to the film's predecessors. Where "Friends" so funny. His street-smart Melman pletely zany and used slapstick humor to make
"Shrek 2" and the recent hit "Robots" pushed the offers zany moments that serve to offset the the six-year olds giggle, or it could have present-
envelope,"Madagascar"falters and fails to impress pointless dialogue between Alex and Marty. ed social humor to grab older audiences. Though
the audience. Early on, when the animals are in Untlike the largely wooden leads, there are some some recent films have been able to adequately
the Central Park Zoo, the backdrops are bland and excellent performances from the supporting cast. do both (think "Finding Nemo" and "Shrek"),
often feature little more than brick buildings. Both the leader of the penguins (Andy Richter, "Madagascar" can't decide which direction to
Aside from setting, "Madagascar" has charac- "Elf") and the two head lemurs are uproariously take. Its insightful humor - the sophisticated
ter issues as well. Stiller, whose comedy revolves funny. The lemurs' raucous party scene, featuring monkeys planning to go to Lincoln Center to
more around body language than dialogue, is an addictive, fun jingle, is possibly the only truly attend a Tom Wolfe speech (though they throw
unable to make the transition to voice acting entertaining part of the film. But even when cou- "poo" at him) - seems misplaced alongside
and fails to instill any real life into his charac- pled withquips fromthe penguins andthemonkeys giraffes eating toilet deodorant cakes. What
ter. Rock runs his mouth as usual, but the edgy (complete with British accents), these moments are results is a sophomoric and altogether unpol-
punch lines that he's famous for are nowhere not enough to save the film from the drab of Rock ished effort that will be too confusing for the
to be found. Of all the leads, only Schwimmer and Stiller's drone-like conversations. kids and not compelling enough for adults.
S HO RT TAKE S Solondz delves into human darkness
By Jeffrey Bloomer
Daily Arts Editor
Of all of Todd Solondz's stark and
strangely sympathetic characters, none
has captured the nostalgic spirits of
moviegoing audiences like Dawn Wein-
er, the awkward, tormented protago-
nist of "Welcome to the Dollhouse." In
1995, nearly a decade before "Napoleon
Dynamite" became a household name
of spazziness, Weiner was the cinematic
poster child of '90s disaffected youth.
Solondz recalled audiences' bewil-
dering reaction: "When people went to
see 'Welcome to the Dollhouse,' they
came up to me afterwards - it could
be a construction worker, but it didn't
matter - they'd all come up to me and
say the same thing: That was me! I
was Dawn Weiner!"
The director, who has built his post-
"Dollhouse" career on characters who
live on the dark edges of American soci-
ety, has held true to form with "Palin-
dromes." The movie chronicles the story
of a 13-year-old girl who embarks on a
journey to have a child.
"She wants to have a baby, but what
does that mean? It's just a quest for
unconditional love," Solondz said.
The young girl is portrayed by a total of
eight different actors and actresses with no
regard to race, sex, age or body type. The
movie opens at Dawn Weiner's funeral,
which Solondz said was no coincidence.
"When I first conceived of this radi-
cal concept of multiple actors playing
the part ... one thing I was inspired by
was my memories of (people's universal
reaction to the first film). 'Welcome to
the Dollhouse' was the launching pad."
Solondz said that "Dollhouse's" uni-
versal appeal spawned "Palindromes" as
an experiment on viewer identification.
If a character is truly sympathetic, does
it matter what performer, or indeed how
many performers, are cast in the role?
"Audiences will experience a certain
level of disorientation - (they'll think)
wait, is she black, is she Latino, is she
a red head?" he said. "My fear was that
it would come across as ... a show-offy
but pointless trick, and alienate the audi-
ence. But my hope was that there would
be a cumulative effect that would be
more emotionally affecting than had
there been just on actor: More magic,
and less sleight of hand."
Solondz also commented on another of
the film's many thematic facets: abortion.
"It's not adogmaticfilm- I'mnotout
to advocate a position,"he said. "Take for
example Ellen Barkin's character. She's
a good woman of progressive leanings;
you give her the form, she'll check off
anti-war, pro-gay rights, pro-gun con-
trol, but then reality hits. What do you do
when your 13-year-old comes home and
she's pregnant - and not only pregnant,
but she wants to keep the baby?"
As for the film's central metaphor
- namely, its title - Solondz said the
movie is a statement about the human
ability to change.
"In the same way that a palindrome
is a word or pattern that reads the same
way from the front as from the back ...
(it) also functions as a kind of loose meta-
phor for ways in which we don't change."
And as the movie ultimately reflects,"you
(might have) grown and changed over the
years (but) on the other hand, you are still
very much the same person you were at
10 years old. The same temperament, the
same filters of human experience are at
work and operation as they were then,
and as they are today," he said.
"Palindromes" is now playing at the