I got an invitation to attend a pre-screening of a movie the other day. The invitation was pretty light on the details:
A New Animated MovieFrom the people that brought you Shrek, Madagascar, and the upcoming Kung Fu Panda.
That's not much to go on. I liked Shrek. I never saw Madagascar. I had not heard of Kung Fu Panda. But, the opportunity to see a movie early and provide feed-back appealed to me. A couple of quick phone calls, and we were confirmed to see the movie.
The over-all experience I found to be interesting. There was standing in line for a while. Repeatedly being warned that no recording devices of any kind would be allowed in the theater. This included cell phones with cameras, among other devices. When we were finally allowed into the theater lobby, we queued up again into a rope barrier that lead us up to a metal detector. I thought it was just short of asking us to remove our shoes and place all liquids into plastic baggies.
When (most) everyone was seated, they announced what movie we would be seeing: Madagascar 2. There was mixed cheering and at least a few grumbles of dissatisfaction. They then proceeded to tell us that this movie was very much a work in progress. It was a mix of finished scenes, partially rendered scenes (no final textures and lighting), rough animatics, and storyboards. Turns out that it was about 1/4 of each of these all mixed together. It was a bit bizarre to go from a finished scene to a storyboard, to animatics, to partial rendering, and back to storyboard. After the movie, we were given sheets to provide feedback.
So, what was the movie like? Well it was mix. It looks like all of the main actors returned to reprise their roles. There were some good pop culture references. And there were parts that just kind of dragged out. Some elements seemed a bit derivative. There was a bit of glorifying the atrocities that man has inflicted on nature. There were a couple of senseless killing of "lesser" animals just for a gag.
I don't know what it is about animated kids movies that they often begin with some tragedy befalling the main character. Bambi: the mother is shot by hunters in the opening sequence. Tarzan: the baby gorilla is killed in the opening sequence. Madagascar 2: the baby lion is coaxed off the preserve and trapped by poachers. He then manages to survive being put in a crate, falling off a truck, rolling down a hill, landing in a river, being swept out to sea, floating across the Atlantic, and ends up in New York. This little lion cub made the entire trip locked in a crate with no food or water. Right.... Oh, I almost forgot: there was the Lion King-esque "one lion challenging the dominant lion for leadership" sequence which plays a bigger role later in the film.
I guess the movie went through a bit a of fast-forward rehash of the first movie. It was a bit confusing. One minute, four animals are yakking in a zoo, there's some cuts to an old woman beating up the lion, then a newspaper headline saying something about a ship lost at sea, and then we're in the jungle with these four animals and some penguins getting ready to leave in an old junk of an airplane. This sequence didn't really make a lot of sense; it seemed hurried and did not do a decent job of explaining where they were or why.
After some in-flight comedy, the group finds themselves is Africa and Alex is reunited with his family. Happiness ensues as everyone falls into their own species groups until the lion who wishes to be king schemes to banish Alex and his family while parallel story arcs have everyone else question whether they truly belong in Africa or with their own species.
Ultimately zoo animals finds out that they belong together and they don't fit in the wild. With the help of the penguins (and the labor of the chimps), they manage to escape the animal hating granny and fly off into the sunset. We don't really know where they are going or what they will do when they get there, but we know it isn't staying in Africa.
I guess the moral of the story is "if the grass isn't really greener on the other side, you should just turn back around and head for home." Or perhaps, "maybe you should keep looking for that place where you are valued for being you, because it isn't here."