Book Review: 'The Art of Madagascar 3'

This “making of” book takes an in-depth look at the concept and production art of DreamWorks’ upcoming animated feature, Madagascar 3.

Banana Gun. Artist/Animator: Goro Fujita. All images © 2012 DreamWorks Animation, L.L.C.

The Art of Madagascar 3, by Barbara Robertson.  Foreword by Chris Rock.  Illustrated.

San Rafael, CA, Insight Editions, May 2012, 156 pages, 978-1-60887-075-2, $40.00.

This is the latest coffee-table “making of” art book to document a DreamWorks Animation CGI theatrical feature, to be released theatrically on June 8, about three weeks after this book’s publication.  To write the text, DreamWorks has recruited Barbara Robertson, a contributing editor for Computer Graphics World who has received numerous awards including the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award and the Society of Technical Communications’ Award of Excellence.  Chris Rock, the voice of Marty the zebra, wrote the brief foreword.

As Insight Editions had full access to the totality of the crew's production graphics while the Madagascar 3 fantasy-comedy was being produced (in 3D), The Art of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is extremely comprehensive in its graphics presentation, printed in a large 11” x 10” format in full color.  There are close-ups of all the main characters: the now-familiar Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippopotamus, and Melman the giraffe, as well as the new characters created for this installment; the circus animals Vitaly the Siberian tiger, Gia the jaguar, and Stefano the sea lion, plus their human nemesis, Captain Chantel Dubois, the ruthless Monte Carlo animal-control officer.  The old and new supporting cast; the four uncontrollable penguins and two chimpanzees, plus King Julien XIII and his lemurs, Mort the mouse lemur and Maurice the aye-aye, and Dubois’ army of animal-control agents and the supporting circus animals such as Sonya the bear, the three performing horse sisters, and the geriatric elephants are covered as well.  There is production art galore:  model sheets, lush background paintings, character and setting VFX art, stereo 3D, lighting, and more (each graphic is signed), with knowledgeable commentary by the production staff such as director Eric Darnell, production designer Kendal Cronkhite, head of story Rob Koo, and head of layout Nol Meyer.  Especially interesting are the preliminary designs of the new characters.  Chantel Dubois in particular was considered in a variety of guises from an older to a younger, less attractive to more attractive, woman before her appearance in the film was settled upon.

Gorky Park Gate. Artist/Animator: Sam Michlap.

Through the mostly-chronological procession of production art, the film’s story is told.  Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman have escaped from New York’s Central Park Zoo (with the penguins and chimps) to find their African roots, and end up in Madagascar by mistake, in Madagascar (2005).  Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) brought them (with the penguins and chimps, plus the Madagascan lemurs) to the African mainland, where they were all disappointed by their “roots” and wanted to return to the New York Zoo.  In Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, the Zoosters travel from Africa to Monte Carlo where the penguins and chimps have gone, to use their patched-together airplane to fly back to New York.  But the plane is hopelessly wrecked, and the “wild animals” in swank Monte Carlo come to the attention of its animal-control officer, a frustrated Big Game Hunter-wannabe who seizes upon their capture or killing as her golden opportunity.  To escape, the African quartet poses as circus animals to join a ramshackle traveling circus passing through Monaco on its way to, ultimately, New York. 

Dubois Color. Artist/Animator: Craig Kellman.

The circus, always pursued by Dubois and her comedy-relief minions, goes to Rome, ending its tour in London before leaving for America.  The art book shows the stylized, beautiful “sets” the DreamWorks artists have created for those cities and the circus train’s passage through the Alps, plus some for cities like Athens, Moscow, and Paris that were dropped from the movie.  During the long journey, the Zoosters reinvent themselves as circus animals –  Alex, of course, is a ringmaster; Marty, who has always dreamed of flying, works up a “shot out of a cannon” act; Melman tries to become a high-wire walker – and reinvigorate the Circus Zaragosa animals to take pride in themselves and become a stellar circus once again.  Alex and the others return triumphantly to New York, where they find that nothing has changed – but they have.  Will they be content to remain in the Zoo?  DreamWorks clearly does not want to say that this is the final feature in the franchise.  Further sequels are vaguely hinted at but nothing is promised.

Melman get saved. Artist/Animator: Goro Fujit.

In keeping with its status as a full-color art book (and publicity), there are minimal black-&-white storyboards and no photos of voice actors, even the stars – or anything that might spoil the mood of adulation at how great Madagascar 3 is.  The Art of Madagascar 3 immerses the reader in the story and cast of the film.  For those who are interested in how a modern CGI animated feature is made, the book is informative; there is plenty of “old-fashioned” 2D production art before the animators begin the CGI process.  But this book is mainly for the fans of the movie.  It successfully makes Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman feel like the reader’s old friends who have returned for one more – and hopefully not the last – visit.

London Romance. Artist/Animator: Lindsey Olivares.

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Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945).  He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom.  He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996.  A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at fredpatten@earthlink.net.

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