DEVELOPING COMEDY ACTION SEQUENCE, FINAL THOUGHTS AND FUN FACTS!
CREATING (AND POPULATING) AFRICA, THE VISUAL EFFECTS
MEET THE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS
READ MORE ABOUT 'MADAGASCAR'
THE ART OF ANIMATION
ON THIS PAGE: MAKING THE FILM… THE MAIN CAST … MEET THE FILMMAKERS
WE LOVE TO MOVE IT, MOVE IT!
In the summer of 2005, "Madagascar" scored big with both domestic and international audiences, racking up more than half-a-billion at the worldwide box office, making it the top family comedy of the year. Once the fancy-footed lion, a quick talking zebra, an anxiety-ridden giraffe and a smart 'n saucy hippo were released into theaters around the globe, these four New York friends--better known as Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria--became the most popular quartet of the season.
Writer/director Eric Darnell remembers being relieved by the reception of "Madagascar," but not really that surprised. He says, "'Madagascar' was a success because it had these entertaining and enjoyable characters that people could identify with--they also connected with them on a human level. And despite their flaws, their issues, their anxieties, whatever problems they may be facing, you always empathize with them and want them to come through."
Writer/director Tom McGrath continues, "We just fell in love with the characters that we created along with Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith--and clearly, everyone else did, too. We had this great ensemble cast that we just totally loved. We took on the theme of civility versus savagery and turned that into a friendship story about these zoo animals, when their bonds were tested once they got into the wild. Even at the time we ended the first movie--before it became this huge hit--we were thinking that we could do so much more with these characters."
Producer Mireille Soria also reasons, "There is something about the design that people love. And I think that's part of it--they're very graphic--along with being smart and funny. The first movie was about the importance of friendship and what it means to be a good friend. One of the things that is so great about New York is its diversity, and that is reflected in our group--a lion, a giraffe, a zebra and a hippo who are best friends. And that was something we thought we could explore even further. And we could also celebrate that."
It was this desire to continue the exploration of the four zoosters that the "Madagascar" filmmakers and DreamWorks Animation's Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg took with them onto a jet bound for the European premiere. McGrath explains, "Even before the movie became as popular as it was, we wanted to do another movie with the characters. We were on our way to Europe and on that plane, we just started hashing out a story--what if our characters went to Africa, their homeland where they supposedly belong? This was a wonderful way to continue the 'fish out of water' story--four New Yorkers on the plains of Africa."
While the original directors and producer began to explore this new storyline, "Madagascar" continued to play to enthusiastic response from moviegoers everywhere. As the new project began to take shape, producer Mark Swift joined the team.
Swift says, "While Mireille was busy finishing 'Madagascar,' I worked on the short with the penguins called 'A Christmas Caper.' So I guess the penguins brought me into the second film."
For Darnell and McGrath, it meant the continuance of a working relationship that had already proved to be a good one. Per Darnell: "The reason why Tom and I work so well together, I think, is because we can take each other's ideas, turn them around and take them to the next level--we bounce them back and forth and come up with something that's stronger than the sum of the parts. We try to be together as often as we can, approve things together and try to work as one mind as much as possible. Sometimes the needs of production demand that we split up--one of us in animation, one of us in a recording session--and we do that when we have to. But, frankly, the more we're together in the same place at the same time, the better for us."
The two met at DreamWorks more than eight years ago and found an instant artistic connection. "Madagascar" gave them the opportunity to work together, as a team. Tom McGrath: "We both often switch our hats around--when working on, say, the drama of the scene or the comedy of the scene--and we'll swap duties. Because we're writing partners, it helps us to create a singular vision for the film. And then, in our duties on the film, we try to stay together as much as we can, splitting duties when required--I mean, there are hundreds and hundreds of people working on this film, and we can't always be in just one place. But when it gets into editorial, that's where we really get to sit together and focus on our film--we are fortunate to now have done two films together."
For Soria, the re-teaming was essential: "As the writers and the directors, they embody 'Madagascar.' They both bring different sensibilities and we get to take advantage of both of their great talents. One of the nice things about this sequel is that we were able to get Tom and Eric, and many of our department heads who were also on the first film [writer/directors Darnell and McGrath, production designer Kendal Cronkhite, visual effects supervisor Philippe Gluckman, head of character animation Rex Grignon, senior supervising animator Denis Couchon, music executive Sunny Park and Soria herself]. We had an opportunity to return to something that we loved and continue it. And we already had a shorthand--a lot of that 'Oh, did I step on your toes?' kind of thing…we'd already been there, done that!"
No matter who would be onboard, the filmmakers knew that without a good, workable story, continuing the journey would be rather fruitless. Mark Swift observes, "The story always comes first. And since 'Madagascar,' everybody loves these characters, so they have to have these characters back. They are like a family. It wouldn't be quite the same if they weren't there. So, we needed to focus on a story that was inclusive. And Tom and Eric and Etan Cohen wrote a wonderful script."
Writer/director Darnell offers, "It's kind of like a chain reaction. When the New Yorkers get on that plane in Madagascar to take off, who is on that plane? Well, it's Air Penguin, they had to fix the plane and pilot the plane. So on with the penguins. You can't leave Julien and Maurice and Mort behind. They're funny. They're part of the group, just like the chimps, Phil and Mason. And boom, you've got a big entourage. So we needed to service these characters, but also the characters they meet in Africa--that's a big balancing act."
It was precisely the popularity of the characters--not just the zoosters, but also Julien and his cohorts, the penguins, the chimps--that provided one of the biggest challenges. Writer/director McGrath explains, "Because you love all these characters, you want to spend time with all of them, but it's very hard to juggle independent storylines. And so, that's always a challenge. I think we pulled it off. All of our secondary stories support the main story, which is tough to do with a cast of, what, 13 characters?"
The writers put Alex at the core of the film, along with his story of meeting his parents, who turn out to be completely different. Alex is the King of New York, the showman, a star--probably not skills that go very far on the vast plains of Africa. For Marty, who's always dreamed of running with the herd, how does it really work, to be part of an enormous group of zebras who are…exactly like you? Gloria, now a little more grown up, feels it may be time to explore a relationship and has the opportunity to do just that. Melman not only finds himself included in a tower of giraffes (yes, that's the official group name!), but also facing his true feelings for Gloria…just in time to see her being romanced by another.
The writers reasoned that while the first film had a wealth of broad moments, it also had subtle, quiet beats, where characters were discovering something within themselves. With this storyline of exploration--to be part of a family, part of a group--there were more opportunities for such times. Each zooster undergoes some sort of inner exploration (who am I really? what is it I really want? is it love or infatuation?), which meant bigger challenges for the animators: to manifest these emotional searches on the outside. In short, the zoosters would need to beef up their acting chops, courtesy of their creators.
While McGrath finishes, "It's a whole different set of challenges, but that's what our animators are trained to do. They're all really actors at heart who may not want to step out onstage themselves, but they'll push their animated creations out there and see what they can do."
LAYOVER COMPLETE, FOUR FRIENDS TAKE OFF… AGAIN
With the filmmakers' desire to take the "Madagascar" characters deeper, with storylines that were still comedic, but now tinged with a little more emotional depth, would this appeal to the actors who helped to create such memorable personalities in t in he first place? All the actors were pitched the story, and all were sold on the idea--the spark was there, and so was the returning cast.
The filmmakers also wisely reasoned that with regard to taking the characters further, revealing more of what makes them tick, they had invaluable tools right in front of them (well, figuratively speaking, that is)…the actors themselves. Having brought them to life the first time around, they would know the zoosters inside and out, as it were. And the key to further exploration of Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman was something the four actors who voiced them all possessed--the ability to explore a character, along with the knack for improvisation.
Darnell describes, "We just give these guys a chance to do what they do best--to just become these characters and let stuff come out. We just get incredible, hilarious--and sometimes touching--stuff. You know, it's the best seat in town. There's no place you'd rather be than on the other side of the glass during a recording session. It's better than any theater or playhouse."
All riffs aside, however, there has to be groundwork in place to support the actors--plot perimeters. So, with the decision to plop them down on the African mainland, other logical script developments follow…they would meet others of their own kind, which would give the New Yorker the chance to see who they were, allow them to test the nurture-versus-nature conundrum and ultimately, to explore where they belonged.
But for Alex the lion, filmmakers wanted to take the journey closer to home--in fact, take Alex home, where he is reunited with his father and mother, who lost him to poachers when he was a cub. As his father is the alpha lion in the pride, both he and his father have certain expectations of the other--how is a show business lion going to fit into the rough and tumble African world?
"Let's just say that Alex isn't at his best when he's thrown by something," explains Ben Stiller. "Even though he's been through the sort of 'Jungle 101' in Madagascar, the stakes are so much higher in Africa, and the world is so much bigger. And since his birth family is there, and his dad happens to be the alpha lion of the pride, expectations are also very high. At first, Alex thinks that it's all under control--he'll just do what he does back home and that should prove his worth. He didn't get to be the King of New York, the star of the zoo, for nothing."
What follows is a misunderstanding, a difference of cultures, and Alex has to play by the rules of this brave new world, where the losers--to use the show business vernacular--don't get the part. This all comes as a big shock to Alex.
For Marty the zebra, his journey isn't about exploring differences so much as similarities. Back home, Marty always dreamed of being in the wild, roaming with his kind. Now, he has that chance…boy, does he have that chance.
Chris Rock says, "There are people in this world who always think that there's something bigger and better than what they got. Not that Marty doesn't appreciate his friends and all that, but he has it in his head that running with his kind is the ultimate. I mean, it stands to reason--he's a rockin' guy, so why wouldn't the party be even better if he was surrounded by a lot of other cool dudes who share his interests?"
On the surface, that logic holds true. The old adage of the more, the merrier. But psychologists will tell you that it is the differences that enrich the group as a whole. Rock adds, "It's like, if your best friend starts acting like you--dressing like you do, talking like you. At first, it's probably an ego booster, right, imitation and flattery, whatever. But then, it would start to get irritating and pretty soon you'd probably start considering the use of a firearm. Now take that and multiply it by hundreds--all of 'em acting exactly like Marty. No wonder the guy has a breakdown. How are you you when everyone else is you as well?"
Most of the time, Melman, the hypochondriac giraffe, probably wishes he were less himself. Away from his regime (and meds) in the Central Park Zoo, Melman matured a bit in the homeopathic world of Madagascar--well, maybe became just a little less neurotic. But there are still issues for him to face, namely his affection for Gloria…along with his health, of course.
David Schwimmer relates, "There are some pretty dramatic things that happen to Melman this time around. When he's sure that the plane they're on is going to crash, he finally confesses his love for Gloria, who's sound asleep, unfortunately. Then, all of his self-taught medical knowledge earns him the place of witch doctor to all the other giraffes. And when he thinks his life is over yet again, he volunteers to sacrifice himself to save Gloria and his friends. I mean, that's a lot for one movie."
While the actor relishes the chance to return to the character, along with the freedom to improv, it is a logistical concern that he still finds a challenge when portraying Melman: "I'm still amazed at how the actors are edited to make it seem like we're all in the scene together. Since we don't record together, it's a challenge not to be able to improv off of another actor, so my strategy is to give the directors as much as possible. That way, they have the flexibility in the editing room to put the performance together. In the end, what's really strange is seeing the result and noticing that the animators have given Melman some of my own qualities and behaviors. Regarding giraffe behaviors, though, I did my research the first time around, but I didn't do any new research for this film. I hope it doesn't show."
Gloria the hippo has no issues with her self-image. She's well aware of who she is, thank you very much. She's self-confident, sassy and sweet. When she encounters a bloat (again, the correct term) of hippos at the watering hole, she welcomes them as they do her--and some really welcome her, like the heartthrob Moto Moto.
Jada Pinkett Smith was enthusiastic to return to the characters of "Madagascar": "That film ('Madagascar') was the first movie of mine my kids could actually watch. Well, I think it's always important for women to see various images of themselves and understand that it's all about what you project from the inside out. Gloria has so much confidence and really just loves who she is. I would hope the film sends a message to young girls that it's about how you perceive yourself that's really important. In this movie, I get to have fun, and also maybe send a little message."
Having been to Africa, Pinkett Smith is awestruck by the country: "Africa is a very hard place to describe. It's almost more of a feeling that it gives you versus any observation of it. I mean, it's magnificently beautiful--I actually went on a safari. My husband says it better than I ever can when he says, 'God visits every place else in the world…but actually lives in Africa.' And that's the only way I can really explain it--it's very spiritual, and you just feel very rooted."
As a lot of "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" deals with roots and identity, it is probably expected that moviegoers will get to see a glimpse of our characters as baby animals. And who better to play a baby Alex than Stiller's own son, Quinlan?
Tom McGrath tells, "Ben Stiller didn't have any kids when we started the first movie, and now he has two. So we asked him, 'Hey, could Quinn be you as a little cub?' So his wife brought Quinn in and put him in the studio. The character really doesn't speak that much, it's mostly laughter and things. Quinn was perfect. When recording kids, you're never gonna get what you want out of them if you ask them for it…it's all the stuff in between recording that you end up using."
Actors routinely sit in tall director chairs when recording, and while in the studio, Quinlan thought the chair was too high--when he began to wince or cry a little, the engineers were ready, and captured all of the noises…a lot of which wound up in the character of baby Alex.
Jada's daughter Willow--true to form--was also the perfect voice for the baby Gloria. Filmmakers were duly impressed with her self-assurance and sass, something she shares with her mother. Like mother, like daughter, the recording sessions also proved to be a playground for fun. Willow Smith reasons, "Because the lines…like if we mess up, it's really, really fun, because I laugh, and then they laugh…and then it's really fun."
ERIC DARNELL (Director / Screenplay) wrote and directed the 2005 worldwide DreamWorks Animation SKG blockbuster "Madagascar." He also previously directed the studio's first computer-animated feature film, "Antz."
Darnell joined PDI/DreamWorks, the studio's northern California campus, in 1991, where he helmed numerous commercial and film projects, drawing upon his multi-faceted talents in animation, visual effects and art direction. His in-house animated short entitled "Gas Planet" garnered international recognition, including the Ottawa Animation Festival Special Jury Prize.
Also for DreamWorks, Darnell assisted with computer animation research and development for the studio's first traditionally animated feature, "The Prince of Egypt."
Darnell earned a BA in broadcast journalism from the University of Colorado and an MFA in experimental animation from CalArts. While completing his MFA, he was awarded filmmaking grants from both the Ahmanson Foundation and the Princess Grace Foundation.
Prior to joining DreamWorks Animation SKG, Darnell worked as a freelance animator. His credits include directing the animated music video "Get Up" for the rock band R.E.M.
TOM MCGRATH (Director / Screenplay / Skipper) has been working in the field of entertainment for more than 18 years. In addition to making his feature film directorial debut with the global hit "Madagascar" (on which he also served as writer), he also showcased his acting talents on the film, voicing the lead penguin, Skipper.
Following the runaway success of "Madagascar" (and while working on its sequel) McGrath also voiced Skipper for the short "The Madagascar Penguins in: The Christmas Caper" and provided voices for "Flushed Away" and "Shrek the Third."
McGrath previously worked in the areas of story and concept design for such features as "Cats & Dogs" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." He also worked as an animator and story artist on such animated films as "Space Jam" and "Cool World." His television work includes directing on "The Ren & Stimpy Show," as well as other projects for Nickelodeon. In addition, McGrath has worked on the shorts "Herd" and "The Thing What Lurked in the Tub," and as a directing animator on national commercials for Coors Light and Subaru.
McGrath graduated from the Character Animation program at Cal Arts after studying Industrial Design at the University of Washington.
ETAN COHEN (Screenplay) has established himself as one of the premiere feature comedy writers in the business, having written projects for some of the movies' biggest directors and stars, including Jay Roach, Mike Judge, Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell. He began his career at 19 while studying in a Jewish seminary on the West Bank in Israel, when he wrote a spec episode of "Beavis and Butthead" and made a cold submission to the show's staff. Mike Judge, who created and was running the show, read it and asked Cohen to start writing for "Beavis and Butthead" immediately. His sophomore year at Harvard coincided with the beginning of what became a three-year stint writing for the popular series. Among the episodes he wrote was one that featured Beavis and Butthead counterfeiting money by simply photocopying it and, shortly thereafter, a group of Columbia University students were found to have adopted the counterfeiting process they saw in the episode.
Cohen graduated from Harvard with a degree in Yiddish and moved to Los Angeles. Once there, he entered into a deal with Disney Television Animation. After that, he went to be a staff writer on ABC's "It's Like, You Know" (created by Peter Melman of "Seinfeld"), with Jennifer Grey playing herself. Cohen was then recruited by Judge to work on FOX's "King of the Hill" as a story editor and ended his stint there as co-executive producer. During that time, Cohen signed an overall deal with FOX TV and won an Annie Award for outstanding writing in animation for the episode "Ceci N'est Pas Une King of the Hill" (2004). During that period, Cohen began writing feature scripts and has since transitioned into exclusively writing features.
Cohen recently wrote and directed the short film "My Wife Is Retarded," which debuted at the 2007 U.S. HBO-Aspen Comedy Arts Festival, where it won the prize for Best Short Film. Most recently, he wrote (along with Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux) the big budget film-within-a-film epic war comedy "Tropic Thunder."