How They Moved It, Moved It - The Directors of Madagascar 2

Talking to the Directors of Madagascar 2


It doesn’t take much to realize there’d be a sequel to Madagascar. Opening this Friday, November 8, it’s now titled Madagascar: Back 2 Africa. That should tell you a lot about the plot, too.

“We started the story about 2-3 months before the first Madagascar came out,” says film co-director Tom McGrath, “in the hopes we would be able to do a sequel to it. What was really interesting is even though the film did very well domestically, it did even better internationally. It did like $500 million overseas. That was good for us because we got the green light really fast.”

“What was really amazing is the film opened up in Russia before the U.S.,” adds partner Eric Darnell, “and it pulled the biggest box office ever for an American film in that country. The Ukraine as well.”

The real numbers, according to the site Box Office Mojo, is $193 million domestically and $339 internationally making it 9th for its year, 2005, and one of the top 20 animated feature films of all time. When you haul in that kind of loot, it’s no wonder Dreamworks went hunting for more.

They earned it. Darnell and McGrath put together a solid story of four New York Zoo animals suddenly finding themselves in “the wild.” They got a superlative performances not only from their primary cast; Ben Stiller (Alex the Lion), Chris Rock (Martin The Zebra), Jada Pinkett Smith (Gloria The Hippo) and Adam Schwimmer (Melman the Giraffe). They also created a number of unforgettable side characters including King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Skipper, the leader of the Penguins (McGrath himself). If that wasn’t enough, having an unforgettable hit song, “You’ve Got To Move It,” didn’t hurt either.

Then again, Darnell and McGrath are used to making hits. Darnell broke into feature directing with Dreamworks’ first CGI film, Antz back in 1998. McGrath worked on the 1996 incarnation of Ren & Stimpy before joining Darnell on Madagascar 1. Talking to them one can see they have an easy chemistry between the two of them, with one picking up a thought where the other usually leaves off.

Speaking of leaving off, what probably helped was Darnell and McGrath had the first scene pretty much figured out before they even started the sequel. After all, there was that dilapidated bomber hanging in the trees in the original film.

“That was one of the first scenes to be written actually the first scene to go into production” says McGrath. “We pretty much thought that we would start the film with them flying off for New York but crash in Africa. From there, we kind of changed the story regularly until the end. It was really a three year process.”

This process of winging on the story goes to including the return of one minor character from the first movie, the old lady who whacked Alex with the handbag in the first movie.

“That’s Nana. (Elisa Gabrielli; Dr. Kafka on SpectacularSpider-Man, Pepper Potts on Invincible Iron Man),”: says McGrath. “We didn’t think of her as a major character or even have her come back. Then we thought of her bit with the purse. What happened is we searched and searched for the right human villain to be upstream. We tried hunters, poachers and even princesses who had been run out of their kingdom.”

“It just kind of worked out from that,” says Darnell. “We first started with a heavy villain, and from there it sort of evolved into a cause-and-effect story. The penguins steal Nana’s Jeep. To survive she and her pals builds a dam. In turn, the water hole on the reserve is dried up. It just felt better for us.”

“It’s easier to write a story with a villain like Makunga that our characters can actually talk to,” McGrath continues.

The creation of Makunga, who would become the main “evil” lion in Alex’s soon-to-be-rediscovered pride, involved another element, the voice actor Alec Baldwin.

“Actually, Makunga is based on the Captain from the film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To the Forum,” says Darnell, referring to the actor Leon Greene. “Remember that guy who comes in and is all bombastic and full of himself?

“When we actually cast Alec, he was going to play a hunter/poacher, then much more like himself. He had these ideas he was going to do this thing for animals with a camp in the jungle. Then as the story developed that character went away and Makunga came around. When Alec got his hands on it, it ended up better than we could have anticipated. He added a lot to it.”

What’s even more amazing is Madagascar 2 involves five different storylines, and there is probably only one weak one in the batch. Each of the principles—Alex, Martin, Gloria and Melman have their own story within the film. The fifth, as one might guess, is given over to the Penguins and Mason the Chimp, who now have been promoted to full stardom the same way Nana’s role has been greatly expanded.

“We really see this film as a tapestry.” Says McGrath. “We had so many great characters from the first movie.”

“We really had about 11 or 12 in the first movie, then we added more,” Darnell chimes in.

“We added Makunga, Moto Moto ( and Alex’s parents (Bernie Mac, Sherri Shepherd) just for starts,” continues McGrath. “The tough part was really we got so much great material from these actors that we had a problem trying to make it all fit.”

A good example of this is in the development of Moto Moto, Gloria’s “huge” new hippo-friend.

“It was mainly,” says McGrath. “He originally just came on to do music with Hans Zimmer. It was a voice he used to leave on his girlfriend’s answering machine. He just came in with that voice, which he calls ‘deep dark chocolate. Then we heard it and immediately said that’s Moto Moto!

“It’s really just those few phrases and that sound. About the only thing we had to do is there were some times where the character came off a little sleazy in a way, and we had him pull that back. Then we went too much the other way and made him a little too smooth, but he made us go back a bit the other way. In the end, what we wound up with made Moto sound much manlier, and from our research that’s the way they are. They like’em huge, if you know what I mean.”

They same came for the really inspirational casting of Sherri Shepherd as Alex’s Mom. Best known for her work on the view, many don’t realize she’s also been a hard working stand-up and actress for more than a few years.

“She was great,” says Darnell. “We had already cast Bernie Mac (as Zuba, Alex’s father). When you think about it, we couldn’t have made the movie without his voice. He really made the role, adding a great paternal quality. He could be tough, but underneath you knew that he loved his son and could empathize with him. Still, it was that strong side that made it possible for him to stand up to Makunga’s schemes.

“As for Sheri, she was tough yet tender, vocal when she was displeased and could stand up to Zuba and shut him down. Besides, Sherri is just full of energy and was so enthusiastic about it. She was great to work with. What people don’t realize is her entire career isn’t sitting at a table with several other ladies. She does comedy, too. She has some real acting chops. She also did some heavy scenes and she did a beautiful job. She really got the mom role down.”

As for the original cast, they apparently contributed mightily as well.

“They were ready to go,” says Darnell. “As soon as we said we were ready they were right back. They really gave a lot because we were constantly rewriting the story and they kept on coming back in, especially Ben, who is incredibly busy.

“They come in there and have to give so much up in a way. We’re sort of developing the story as they are coming in. They are reading lines, improvising, imagining entire sequences and entire characters. None of that stuff is really there in the beginning. We really use them to help us develop those characters. We took a real leap of faith when we signed those actors, and it really paid out.”

More important, the film has the Penguins. McGrath’s Heroes not only steal the jeep that kicks off the main storyline of the film, but they truly do steal the movie with their new adversary, Mason.

“It’s a great way to vent,” McGrath laughs. “The Penguins are just so zippy and retro, especially Skipper. He’s based on Robert Stack, Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas so it’s really fun to get behind him. Also, getting behind the mike it made me realize how much I depended on Erik as well as how much doing voice work was working in a vacuum. It’s enlightening in terms of being a director.

“As for Mason, That’s Conrad Vernon. He’s directing Monsters vs. Aliens right now. He also directed Shrek 2. How we get some of these voices is we sometimes do the voices ourselves to fill in as scratch voices until we hire the voice over artist. Sometimes it just sticks.”

“It was just a riff. It was just us being some of the boys. The Penguins for us, because they are much more comic relief, are just a lot of fun. We love to come up with lots of shticks for them. They are kind of our desert for working on this movie.”

And as animation fans now know, the Penguins’ stardom is rising even higher. They will be the stars of their own animated series on Nickelodeon in the near future.

“We are as consultants on that one,” says Darnell. “We’re not there in the trenches with the crew. We help the people working on it on just what the characters are and helping them achieve the animation style. So it will come like it was derived from the two films.

“It’s a bit of an alternate reality in a way. They are back in New York and King Julian, Mort and Maurice are there with them. So it’s those two groups, who were more minor characters, primarily going up against each other as adversaries. We didn’t get Sacha Baron Cohen to voice Julian, but we do have Tom as Skipper.”

“It’s been fun,” adds McGrath. “For me I can just get together with the show’s creative people and be Skipper. What is funny though is friends of mine will ask me to do Skipper for their kids. When I do it for them the kids just look at me in a way that says ‘Who the heck are you? You’re not a Penguin!’ It really freaks them out. I now try not to do it.”

As for more of the main characters, don’t be surprised if there’s a Madagascar 3 in the works.

“There are a lot more stories we can tell with these guys,” says Darnell. “They are not back in New York, at least yet. Maybe in that film they’ll finally get there. We are already thinking of possible story lines but we will wait to see how this one is received.”

“We were real proud of the way the first one worked out,” says McGrath, “but we felt we could tell a better story because over the process we got to know the characters really well. So we thought we could do better. So that became our mission, our goal. So far so good, you know?”

After seeing Madagascar 2, all one can add is definitely.


Two special episodes of The Xtacles, created by 70-30 Productions (Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo), are coming to Adult Swim on Sunday, Nov. 9 and Nov. 16 at midnight (eastern).

The Xtacles, spun off from the Adult Swim original series Frisky Dingo, follows the adventures of the world’s most elite private mechanized fighting police force as they battle super villains while causing massive amounts of property damage, personal injury and a few hurt feelings. The Xtacles typically do as much harm as any super villain they were trying to capture and sometimes even more. In fact, the world would actually be a safer place if the super villains were allowed to roam free. But The Xtacles can't have that, so look out villains and look out world.

Two episodes will air on Adult Swim starring Marshall Bell as Jack Taggart (the 40-year old, war veteran leader), Michael Ian Black as Chase Fontaine (25- year old hot shot Xtacle who is better than everyone else) and Rachael Harris as Alex (token hot girl).

The episodes are: “Operation: Mountain Punch” airs Sunday, Nov. 9 and “Operation: Murderous Conclusions” airs Sunday, Nov. 16.


Walt Disney Studios announced they’re sending characters from Bolt and Toy Story to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Miley Cyrus is also slated to sing “I Thought I Lost You” from the film Bolt aboard a float starring characters from the movie, which features the voices of Cyrus and John Travolta and opens on Nov. 21, 2008.

Meanwhile, Buzz Lightyear makes his Parade debut as a larger-than-life character helium balloon. His appearance celebrates the return of the Toy Story franchise to the big screen. The original Toy Story hits theaters on Oct. 2, 2009. Toy Story 2 debuts Feb. 12, 2010. Toy Story 3, a brand new adventure, will be in theaters June 18, 2010.

“Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an iconic event for families all over the world,” says Jim Gallagher, president of marketing for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. “I can think of no better way to introduce families to Disney’s newest stars from ‘Bolt,’ and celebrate one of Disney/Pixar’s most beloved characters in Buzz Lightyear.”

“The Macy’s Parade has been the launching pad for many new beautifully animated characters just waiting to leap into the hearts of fans everywhere, and this year is no exception,” says Amy Kule, producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “The addition of Bolt and Buzz Lightyear to an already stellar line-up is sure to be a highlight of the annual procession and make Bolt and Buzz Lightyear instant Parade classics.”

NEXT COLUMN: We chat with veteran voice artist Ellyn Stern, who’s done so many roles in her career she needs the IMDB to remember them all...

Related animation articles

Twitter activity