Saturday, June 9, 2012
Circus afros do not a movie make
It's an understatement to say I did not love the original Madagascar. Shame, too, because I did love Madagascar, the island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa, which has its own territory in the board game Risk. In fact, before the movie came out, Madagascar was my go-to place when I was doing some kind of bit and I needed the name of a random country.
Well, not anymore.
I have a hard time explaining why, but I loathed the original Madagascar. I thought the story and writing were moronic, and many of the portrayals really bothered me, specifically David Schwimmer as that neurotic giraffe. (It may not be fair to blame this specifically on Madagascar, since it was around then that Schwimmer frittered away his remaining viability as a performer and joined the ranks of the irredeemably annoying.)
But the first time I saw a trailer for Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (having skipped Madagascar 2), I thought it actually looked really clever. There was something about the lovingly created European setting that really spoke to me, that made me want to open my arms to Dreamworks' franchise again, made me consider returning Madagascar the country to the good graces of my repertoire of random country names.
Until, that is, everything about the advertising campaign became dominated by circus afros.
"Duh duh dudda dudda duh duh circus, duh duh dudda dudda duh duh afro, circus afro, circus afro, polka dot polka dot afro!"
So sings Chris Rock's zebra, featured front and center on this poster, to the tune of the familiar "circus theme song" (which probably has a name if I bothered to look it up). I thought that bit was okay in that first trailer I saw, but at that point I didn't realize that every shred of advertising related to this movie would soon revolve around what is probably a very short scene in the movie, involving rainbow-colored wigs.
If I thought the first Madagascar was bankrupt in the idea department, I might be floored by the bankruptcy involved in this movie if they think that the so-called "circus afro" is the movie's big hook. "Wig out!" screams a billboard I drive past every day, which shows that penguin up close with his circus afro. And so on. And so forth.
The weird thing is, the first time I saw the trailer, I was wondering if there were some sly racial politics going on here. Animated movie characters don't have races, per se, even if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt the race of the actor voicing the character. Which is the case with Rock's voicing of the zebra. Since he's the one who gets to sing the now-famous "Circus Afro Song," I was wondering if there was supposed to be some kind of comment about the afro (a hairstyle traditionally associated with people of African descent) being repurposed for use by clowns at the circus.
Anyway, more than Madagascar 3 specifically, I guess I have a problem in general with the marketing tactic of trying to hype up one particular aspect of a movie that no one has seen yet, basically telling us it's supposed to be the thing we connect to most. It's a variation on my complaint (made here) about shoving a catchphrase down our throats, even though none of us has seen the movie yet and don't know what this catchphrase means in or out of context.
Although if a lot of people do see Madagascar 3 this weekend, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it probably has something to do with the circus afros. Usually, hype does work. It doesn't mean I have to like it.
And the idea of the lost zoo animals hitching a ride with circus animals is, indeed, probably a good one.
Before I sign off today, I'd like to apologize to you, my loyal reader, that I did not write a post about Prometheus today. If I hadn't spent all week moving into a new house and trying to survive a commute that's three times the length of my old one (at the best of times), I might have written about both Madagascar 3 and Prometheus this week. But the truth is, I don't have anything to say about Prometheus that hasn't already been said by a million fanboys.
I will say that I don't expect it to feature any circus afros.