My good friend sent me to a review of Madagascar, the animated movie that opened this weekend. We all went and saw it together tonight (took up a whole row at the moviater—fun). I was surprised to see as many teens in the show as we did, but maybe that’s the thing to do once school’s out. There were several things I liked in the review and wanted to comment on, so here goes. (Full review at pluggedinonline)
Marty the Zebra is a dreamer. He lives in New York’s Central Park Zoo, where his every need is catered to, but he longs to run free in the wilds of Africa, where—well, Marty has no real idea of what living in the wild entails. It just sounds fun. His good friends Alex the Lion, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo try to convince him how good they have it at the zoo—all the food they want, the attention of their adoring fans, nothing to do but lie around all day.
Yeah, what a life. On cue, the lights come on, then the music, and everyone performs. But none of it is real. It's all a show for people who come to see the manicured, blow-dried, polished attractions perform: "Look at me! I'm not a real lion—I just play one." But then again, who wants a real lion—there's no telling what he might do. But what a pull for the posers! The only people you have to perform for are the ones who happen to show up that day with money in hand, wanting to be wowed. And the rest of the time you get to lie around and eat steaks, take drugs, lounge in the pool, and do the treadmill, and no one's the wiser.
Marty remains unconvinced, so he decides to blow the joint and escape to the wide-open spaces of ... Connecticut. (It’s easier to get to than Africa since there’s a direct train from Grand Central Station.)
It's interesting that Marty just decided for a little excursion, but somehow he ended up in the wild anyway. I think God is the Lord of our dreams, and that dreams do have power. Whenever we really embrace them, they have a way of materializing even when we don't 'make it happen.'
He gets some help from a passel of psychotic penguins, who are determined to return to their ancestral home in the wilds of Antarctica.
The penguins are crazy, no doubt. And they provide just the right jolt to get Marty moving. I've often felt that way about pioneers in every movement I've been involved with. A nut is usually exactly what it takes to crack the protective shell you've created that made you feel feel nice and safe and comfortable—and was killing you a day at a time.
The power of friendship despite differences gets strong play in this film. All the friends go to great lengths to help each other, even to the point of endangering themselves.
I thought that was beautiful.
Marty, who would be natural prey to Alex in the wild, refuses to ditch his lion friend, even when Alex increasingly has trouble suppressing his inner predator. For his part, Alex sends himself into bleak exile rather than endanger his pal.
Isn't it great when people stick up for each other through trials, even when the one friend is truly struggling in his weakness? ("In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.") And look at this weakness—Marty's friend wanted to eat him! I also liked the classic Jekyll/Hyde or werewolf complex—he knew he was slipping in and out of Beast, that it was just a matter of time when his spell would return, and he even constructed a cage to protect others from himself. I'm sure there's a name for this psychological phenomenon—that odd love that wants to protect others from despised self, but here's where that PhD would've come in handy.
Marty longs to have a better understanding of himself (“I don’t know if I’m white with black stripes or black with white stripes”), and he’s the resident optimist when trials arise.
I think this is kind of cool. Marty wasn't one dimensional. He dreamed of breaking out, but he also looked inward. Also, he didn't have to have everything figured out before he allowed himself to dream, or even before starting his quest—he just launched out not having all the answers. He didn't even have the biggie answered: Tenet Nosce, "know thyself" (I'm thinking of another movie here) before making his decision to embrace his dream for the wild life. We get the Names of God throughout the Old Testament not from people studying Him in universities or in prophet's schools. We get them from people who launched out not knowing all the answers before they left, and that was the blessing: new knowledge of God revealed in an experience of Him. "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I [Paul] am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there."
Still, you leave the theater wondering what result you were supposed to root for—that the animals make it back to their safe zoo existence or learn to live "authentically” as wild animals. On this point it feels as if the screenplay was written by a committee. To their credit, though, the filmmakers did come down strongly on the side of the power of friendship and self-sacrifice to overcome our selfish primal urges.
I was a little disappointed in their spinelessness here. If I were to tilt the scales it would of course be for living "authentically." But at least they could have made a pitch. I suppose that the filmmakers decided that their goal was to make a movie with high entertainment value and broad appeal ($), but I think other recent animated films were very entertaining, yet had powerful messages (Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, for example), and did very well at the box office.
Even though Alex is the star attraction at the zoo, he is not stuck up, and his friends are not jealous of him.
I really love the way they portrayed the friend's attitudes towards each other. Alex was truly a trophy animal. Everyone was genuinely in awe him and celebrated his glory. At the same time, Alex had neither arrogance nor that sappy false humility (which is actually camouflaged pride). Nor did any of the friends take their celebration of his glory beyond its proper place, either. They glorified him for doing his thing, and even promoted him to others, but all the while, they knew him just as Alex, their friend. Each of us is a trophy animal. And that reminds me of what C.S. Lewis wrote in Weight of Glory:
Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point. That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in the speculations which have been indulging. I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)