Now that the holiday season is upon us, you may feel inclined to bring your favorite young one (or one who is young at heart) to the movie theater to catch something uplifting and animated. Even if you only celebrate Festivus around this time of year, we can all enjoy a good animated film with a heartfelt message.
Two of the biggest “cartoon” movies hitting the cineplexes this year are Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Bolt. If you’re thinking of taking a break from all that holiday shopping and hiding out in the dark confines of an auditorium with sticky floors and stale popcorn, which animated film should you watch? Well, I’ve seen both Bolt and Madagascar 2, so allow me to give you my opinion on both flicks.
John Travolta provides the voice of Bolt, a Hollywood dog who has never left the studio. His on-screen character, also named Bolt, has all sorts of doggie superpowers, including heat vision, super speed, and a super bark. The poor pup is not aware that his entire life is little more than an illusion, so when he suddenly finds himself in the real world, he really is a fish out of water. He experiences hunger for the first time. He bleeds for the first time. And he slowly realizes that his powers no longer seem to work.
While I found the Bolt character to be somewhat bland, the supporting cast is a little more interesting. As Bolt tries to make his way back to home to save his “person” Penny, voiced by Miley Cyrus, he befriends an alley cat named Mittens and a chubby hamster in a ball named Rhino. Shown above, Rhino really steals the show with his utter enthusiasm and his ability to be “beyond awesome.” The action sequences are pretty fun and the lessons of camaraderie, friendship, and loyalty are great for the kids. Their encounters with pigeons from different cities also reminded me of the Mafia pigeons from Animaniacs.
No, Bolt never reaches the same level as WALL-E, but there are enough cute moments and cheap laughs that make this film worthwhile.
Madagascar Escape 2 Africa
While Bolt only has two immediately recognizable names among its voice cast, Madagascar Escape 2 Africa follows in the tradition of some other recent animated films by boasting an incredible star-studded cast. You’ve got everyone from Ben Stiller to Chris Rock, Bernie Mac to David Schwimmer. Even Will i Am and Andy Richter find themselves in there somehow. In this way, Madagascar 2 may have more of an immediate appeal to older audiences, but that’s pretty much where it stops.
In short, the zoo crew that we met in the first Madagascar make an attempt to get back home, but they find themselves stranded back in Africa where Alex the Lion (voiced by Stiller) reunites with his long-lost family. It seems that the writers borrowed an excessive amount of inspiration from Lion King, tossed in with a little dash of Happy Feet.
Alex’s father is the leader of his pride (like Mufasa), but he is challenged by an evil uncle-like character (like Scar). It is up to Alex (like Simba) to stand up and bring peace and happiness back to the land. Furthermore, Alex’s father disapproves of Alex’s dancing (like Mumbles in Happy Feet), because he feels it is not appropriate behavior for a lion. This story feels far too familiar and far too unimaginative.
And just like the first Madagascar, the most entertaining sequences are those that involved the secondary characters. The meerkat musical numbers are enjoyable and the penguins are quirky (in a good way), but Madagascar Escape 2 Africa really isn’t much more than just a diversion. The first Madagascar was better, if only because it was more original.
Neither one of these movies is quite as mature and well-developed as Ratatouille and WALL-E. Those two films set a new standard for what we should expect from these Pixar-style CG-animated “kids” movies. That said, if you’re heading to the theatre anyway, I’d easily recommend Bolt over Madagascar Escape 2 Africa. It’s more original, more imaginative, and I personally found it to be funnier too. Rhino really is beyond awesome.