Wednesday, May 08, 2013

2012 Animation Round-Up: Madagascar III, Wreck-It-Ralph and Internal Consistency

I know it sounds silly to say I want more realism from a film about four talking zoo animals, but Madagascar III was so far removed from any sense of internal logic or consistency that it was just plain stupid.

One might think that internal logic might not matter in a cartoon like the Madagascar series but the first Madagascar was charming because it treated hypothetical questions realistically. A thoughtfully built-out isn't trivial: It's what separates a Saturday Morning Cartoon from a smart animated film that appeals to an adult. Case in point: In the animated X-Men series, Rogue would fly and punch through walls. In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible would have to deal with a potential lawsuit whenever he punched a wall and his superfast son has to deal with making for an even playing field when he participates in the school track team.

Very little about the first Madagascar falls out of line with reality. They even go so far as to explain why the animals can't talk: When the quartet is nearly apprehended at Grand Central Station and Alex (the lion) tries to reason with the crowd but his speaking comes out as roaring. Likewise, if we could hear the internal monologue of a lion, it would likely be a diva from all the attention it was getting. Similarly, a giraffe would naturally feel awkward and a little scared of the world with his head dangling high above the ground on top of a very thin neck. I'm not sure why a zebra would be so Chris Rockish but what matters is he's consistently Chris Rockish. This all serves the film's fish-out-of-water angle well because when they get stranded in Madagascar and they see their new environment as zoo animals would. 

The third Madagascar got so ridiculous, I eventually tuned its attempts at making sense  like white noise" We have the animals deciding to swim halfway across the planet, a tiger who can jump through a wedding ring, the circus now being run by chimpanzees and selling out to a human audience, and a lion suddenly learning the trapeze.

None of the new plot developments are particularly additive. In one, Sasha Baron Cohen's lemur monkey falls madly in love with a big bear (which by the way, is kind of gross) and the two go to the Vatican to kiss the pope's hand and get his blessing. What?! I'm not sure where the pope stands on monkey-bear unions but at least the first and second installments had a clearly spelled out humans-animals relationship.

The movie also feels rushed. It wasn't just the actual running time of 93 minutes, but the storyline weaved its way from one plot point to another at right angles with no transition. The gang decides to go to Monte Carlo and are suddenly there one scene later. One scene after that, they're being chased out of Monte Carlo and onto the next adventure. There's a weary Russian tiger played by Bryan Cranston who warns against cliches and nearly quits the circus but is talked out of it in 30 seconds by Alex. What do you call a sudden 180 reversal like that again? Oh yes, it's a cliche.

This was such a shame because while neither of the two previous Madagascar installments were groundbreaking, they were both consistently entertaining films.
On the other end of the spectrum is the other animated film I saw this past year in Wreck-It Ralph which borrows heavily from the early days of NES and arcade games from that era.

The film already has a lot going for it before we even get to the actual story: The premise of a video game villain wanting to be a hero is highly clever and the setting promises a  nostalgic trip for anyone who grew up on Nintendo.

Most importantly, the film takes a shaky premise that video game characters are sentient, and sketches out all the hypotheticals out thoroughly. The video game characters reside at an arcade and, due to the fact that all the games are plugged in through the same power strip, they're allowed to leave their games and visit other video game universes (one video game whose objective is serving of root beer serves as a popular gathering spot) after the arcade closes. The biggest fear among the characters are their games being put out of commission which would spell out an end to existence. Therefore, they have to play out their assigned roles during arcade hours, whether hero or villain, or else the arcade player will complain about the game malfunctioning and the game will be shut down.

As for the film, Wreck-It-Ralph delivers thoroughly and I highly recommend it. It's got heart, it's interesting, and the visuals are wonderful. My only two complaints are 1) The cybugs are way too scary for a kid's movie. The 9-year-old version of me would have had nightmares for weeks and the current version of me found them a bit creepy and unsettling even if I was nightmare-free. 2) Jack McBrayer is a bit miscast as the hero character and even more miscast as a suitor to the commando played by Jane Lynch. Can you imagine Kenneth the Page and Sue Sylvester hooking up  with each other in any universe?

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