Sigh. We just took Akira to see Madagascar 18, I mean 3. While she thoroughly enjoyed herself, Justin and I white-knuckled our way through the movie, suppressing our fantasies of lecturing the audience. The disappointment began one minute into the film when the first goal of the gaggle of main characters is to escape their free lives in the wilderness of Africa and return to the confines of the New York zoo. Ugh.
The plot tracks this gaggle’s adventure on the lam from an animal control officer who wishes to add Alex the Lion’s head to her taxidermy trophy wall (see, with kids we can address killing animals in the context of a villain’s work, but not our own everyday habits).
In order to catch a ride “home,” the crew joins an animal circus where they experience the “joys” of performing for humans—zebras love being shot from cannons (it’s like flying!), lions are thrilled to jump through hoops of fire, the primitive, speechless bear rides a bike (wow, wild animals are dumb!), the hippo is a master on the tightrope, and horse-llamas (?) love to wear makeup and dance. It is even stated outright by Alex the Lion that people don’t make the magic of the circus—animals do.
This film is a clear example of how children become desensitized to the use and abuse of animals. It is full of both obvious and subtle moments that normalize the idea that some animals are to be loved, celebrated, and protected, while others are literally worth no more than garbage. On a high-speed car chase, the good animals employ their “Omega Slick” escape-tactic which involves dumping a barrel of oily fish (whether they’re dead or alive is unclear) onto the road behind them in order to lose the antagonists—who incidentally run over the fish and skid to a halt.
Once the main characters finally land back in their dreary New York zoo cages, they do have a change of heart—but it only marks the desire to return to the circus. Ugh, ugh.
Are the anti-animal subtleties lost on kids amidst the 95 minutes of whizzing, zooming, flashing, crashing, dancing, songs, and maximum color-saturation? Maybe in the moment. But the naive supremacy that allows us to use and abuse animals in adulthood is a miseducation that begins in childhood—on our plates, at the zoo, and in the movies.
The one modicum of truth that I enjoyed occurred when, while jumping on a bed, a penguin’s pillow explodes and he laments, “Chimichanga! These pillows are filled with baby biiiirds!” Of course, the audience “awww’ed” in sympathy while they chewed on hot dogs.
If you do go see Madagascar 3, let your kids have fun, laugh, and enjoy the crazy feats of animation. But afterwards, maybe even a couple days after—please make sure to remind them that often in cartoons, animals seem to enjoy being in the zoo and circus, but in real life, real animals do not.