In the world of animated CGI films, it’s hard to be too impressed by anything anymore. Most of the residents of the animal kingdom have already been voiced (in some cases, multiple times) and our furry friends have been put in a myriad of situations that cover every little plot imaginable. So how is it that Dreamworks consistently is able to come up with animated furry creature films that genuinely entertain? Sure there are some duds (Shark Tale and most recently Shrek 3 [it has some furry creatures in it) but they’ve had quite the hot streak of luck with their CGI studio lately and one of the more entertaining ventures had to have been Madagascar. As simple as it looked, the film managed to effortlessly entertain both young and old and is one of few animated CGI films that didn’t have me rolling my eyes when the trailers for the sequel rolled before films this summer.

When four pampered animals from New York City’s Central Park Zoo find themselves boarding a boat that will take them away from their locked up lives, they quickly find out that getting away from their lives in captivity may not be as fun as they thought it’d be. After shipwrecking on the exotic island of Madagascar, the four animals stick together in an effort to make it out of Madagascar alive and back safely (they hope) to their lives in New York City. With an all star voice cast of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith, Madagascar packs in the laughs and excitement with room to spare.

I honestly and truly enjoyed this film the first time I saw it and when it came time for a review of the Blu-ray release, I didn’t hesitate to watch it again. I used to be a huge animation buff, but with my interest waning I really haven’t kept up too much with the recent releases and truth be told it was the influx of horrible CGI animal films that made me want to smash my head into the wall. The cuter they got, the more grating they became and before long I just stopped with the animated films that weren’t made for a less critical audience. Luckily, while still remaining kid friendly to the extreme, Madagascar is just a nice film that anyone can sit back and enjoy.

Perhaps it’s the variant in the CGI style which makes it look more like a cartoon rather than some hyper realistic furball film, but the film almost feels like a return to form of the more humorous cartoons of old where you felt free to laugh at the silliest of things on screen. With the CGI movement we’re given the ability to throw in more complex and subtle character movies that can be as hilarious as the sweeping lines of the hold hand drawn method. I’m not saying Madagascar is some Oscar worthy film when it comes to the animation, but it is certainly nice to look at.

Of course some of the most enjoyable bits of the film are the penguins and lemurs, all coming with their own comedy shtick that works impeccably throughout the film. While it appears they may be a bit overused in the upcoming sequel, for this films short run time (under an hour and a half) they’re more than adequate to fill up the screen with laughs. The performances by our stars, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith are all exceptional as well. As much as I hate to see real voice work be taken away by the individuals who work in the animation industry day in and day out and can produce voices that you wouldn’t believe, I’m always glad to hear an animated effort be pulled off when there’s an array of star talent behind the mic. Too many times I’ve watched films where the voices seemed off simply because they were big names (see: majority of Shark Tale), but this film was a real treat. Overall a solid film for the whole family and one that I’m sure adults won’t dislike watching. Recommended.

The Blu-ray
Paramount has released Madagascar in a standard elite Blu-ray case without any inserts or disc art (play grey wash). It’s a rather bland looking release on the outset, but the menu system is fun to play around with and the video and audio transfer is where we get to see some amazing things. The AVC encoded 1.85:1 1080p transfer for this film is pretty much pristine throughout. There are a few hints of compression that crop up, but the all digital film looks exceptional in HD and the colors that it produces pop off the screen. Early on in the film we see the hippo at night in New York, with a highly textured towel on her as she gets a massage, next to a bowl of fruit that is wonderfully lit. If this doesn’t impress upon you the benefits of HD, then I don’t know what will. The accompanying Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 track is impressive as well, offering up a remarkable level of channel separation and clarity for the entire duration of the film. Simply put this film looks and sounds terrific and at the very least will entertain you with its visuals if the story and characters aren’t stimulating enough for you.

Moving onto the extras we get a mash up of stuff for kids, press related extras and a few genuinely entertaining pieces. The first of the latter is the audio commentary with the film’s directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath. They clearly are very proud of this film and the two make for an entertaining track from start to finish. Optional to watch while you’re listening to the commentary is a trivia track that pops up, the only Blu-ray exclusive for this release, which is filled with interesting information throughout the film.

The remaining extras return from the original DVD release, some of which are presented here in HD. Included are a short commentary area with the penguins over their scenes in the film (“Penguin Chat”, HD), animation bloopers (HD) and the animated short “Christmas Caper” (HD). Standard definition content includes the four making of featurettes (“Behind the Crates”, “Meet the Wild Cast”, “Tech of Madagascar” and “Enchanted Island”) as well as production notes, bios, music videos and an array of games and activities for the kiddies to play around with.

Overall a fantastic Blu-ray release if you don’t already own the DVD edition. The video on this film really needs to be seen to be believed, however, so at the very least give this one a Rental if you’re a fan of it and already own it; if it’s new to your collection, however, this one comes Recommended.

Madagascar is now available on Blu-ray.

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