Animated Manhattan: Madagascar
Part 10 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.
Madagascar tells the story of a bunch of animals at the Central Park Zoo who break out hoping to live a better life on the outside. So, naturally enough, the story starts at the Central Park Zoo. It’s rendered fine enough, I guess, but it doesn’t really have much character. Nearby buildings — the Plaza Hotel, Essex House, etc — are recognizable in the background. And I guess it looks like the Central Park Zoo. But it’s so sterile and just kind of bland.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the animals escape the zoo and have an adventure in New York City. There are a couple cute moments, like the one where the zebra sees the woman wearing zebra stripes outside Saks. But for the most part, I felt the renderings of the city were a little too real-world-photogenic. I mean, this is a cartoon where all the characters have definite style. So why doesn’t the city get any style?
Look at Rockefeller Plaza, for example. It looks… more or less just like Rockefeller Plaza. I guess I would complain if it didn’t, but it’s just a little too clean and sterile to look good this way. It just bothers me. It’s like they’ve found the uncanny valley of architecture.
The more I think about it, the more I think the uncanny valley metaphor is exactly what’s wrong here. They created a version of New York City that’s photo-realistic and accurate in most details. But they missed the mark in so many subtle ways that it ends up being disturbing more than anything else.
And they put benches in Grand Central Terminal. There are no benches in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal in real life. But in the movie there are. But here’s one detail they did get right: They accurately depict the sign on the building as showing the words “Grand Central Terminal” and also accurately depict everyone in the movie referring to it as “Grand Central Station” instead.
Only the first 20 minutes or so of the movie actually take place in New York. After the animals have their little adventure, they get captured and sent off to… well, I don’t know where because I found the movie so boring I didn’t watch any more than that. I assume they went to Madagascar, but I don’t know. I fast forwarded (fasted forward?) and saw that they went somewhere with a lot more color and style than this bland and sterile version of New York. Here are some more shots of the sterile city:
(My rating is for the series’ depiction of NYC only)