Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
On one hand, “Madagascar 3″ is a frenetic, funny film with a message of forgiveness and personal sacrifice for friends. Just looking at its explicit messages, it would be hard not to recommend it, especially in a week when the top two newly released films are filled with little more than wanton hedonism and debauchery.
But on the other hand, this animated movie offers an opportunity to discuss some of the world’s major trends in worldview and ask how these effect us – and our children – at an emotional and intuitive level.
One of the most important questions we face every day is, “How do we know what is good and true?”
Three major veins of worldview influence the answer to that question and have dominated American thought over the last two centuries: Oversimplified, romanticism teaches us that if it feels good, it is good; rationalism teaches us that unless a claimed truth makes logical sense, it’s nonsense; and a biblical worldview teaches us that a creator and higher authority has created what is good and authored what is truth.
When discerning a film’s worldview, I don’t often delve into these over-arching themes, but stick to the main moral of the story – redemption, forgiveness, hopelessness, communism, vengeance … whatever the tale may tell.
But where my children are concerned, I’m a little more cautious.
And since my children are going to ask me if they can see “Madagascar 3,” I’m not going to let the filmmakers get away with preaching a message of forgiveness, when that message is wrapped around a big pill of anti-biblical worldview.
The movie is the incredibly fast-paced story (can you “catch” ADD by watching just one movie? Because if you can, I’ve been infected) of a band of New York City zoo animals trying to make their way from the wilds of Africa back to the bright lights and big city from whence they came, all while being chased by a manic, obsessive game hunter. Along the journey, they deceive their way into a family of circus animals, only to eventually have their deception exposed and then covered by forgiveness as they team up with their new pals to save the day.
The film is filled with laughs, action, fun and colorful characters of surprising depth, while on the whole being a better-made movie than I had expected.
It also has some catchy music from pop star Katy Perry, including her hit tune “Firework,” which happens to pop up at the movie’s most pivotal moments, creating a bit of a theme song for the movie as a whole.
And it’s a good choice, because it reflects the film’s biggest worldview flaw.
See if you can spot which of the three approaches to determining “truth” is apparent in the following lines, taken right from Alex the lion’s big, inspiring speech at the film’s climax:
“Circus is about following your passions, wherever they take you,” Alex proclaims to wild cheers from his fellow critters. “If we follow our passions, we can do anything!”
Whoa. That’s a double scoop of romanticism in your dish right there.
Then come some rousing numbers of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” a song about breaking out of your inhibitions and fears and showing the world “what you’re worth.”
“Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow, and when it’s time, you’ll know,” Perry sings in the kind of syrupy, romanticist philosophy only a pop star can sing. “Baby, you’re a firework. Come on, let your colors burst. Make ‘em go, ‘Oh, Oh, Oh.’ You’re gonna leave ‘em all in awe, awe, awe. … It’s always been inside of you, you, you, and now it’s time to let it through-ough-ough.”
Then, the film concludes with the critters returning to their home and suddenly feeling like it’s become a prison, while the world outside offers a life that is “exciting, romantic, dangerous.” They decide this life of “adventure” feels so much more right … and then run off to join the circus.
And if you know anything about Katy Perry’s life, “circus” is an apt description.
Like a firework, the emotional impact of “Madagascar 3,” based on its romanticist flair, is all power and passion, spraying out, sometimes outside the lines, like worshippers who worship in spirit but not in truth (if, indeed, such a thing is possible). It’s doing what feels wonderful and, as the movie says, “exciting, romantic, dangerous.”
But what happened to what is “good” and “true”?
In Katy Perry’s music video for “Firework,” in fact, there’s oodles of joy and images of teens in tough spots coming out of their shell to find energy, confidence and pride in their unique talents.
Sounds good so far.
Then, there’s also a teen boy in a dance club who grabs that “exciting, romantic, dangerous” passion and like a “firework,” explodes across the floor to grab another boy and … kiss him passionately across the mouth.
Suddenly we lost the “good” and “true” part.
And therein lies the danger of romanticism. Not all that “feels right” is right. The One who said “I am the Truth” (John 14:6) also warned that the human heart is “deceitful and wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) and that there is a way that “seems” right to a man, but that way leads to his own destruction (Proverbs 14:12).
Romanticism is a worldview that deceives much like the serpent in the garden, whispering notes that sound like truth – indeed “feel” like truth – but in reality blur the lines of truth, sending us down a divergent path of truth distorted, corrupted, fallen.
Look, I’m not pronouncing “Madagascar 3″ as evil, only coming from a culture steeped in romanticism, and thus deceived. And we may even disagree about how prevalent a role romanticism plays in the movie.
But if you are conscientious of the values your children’s friends are teaching them, shouldn’t you also be mindful of the values taught by their animated friends?
“Madagascar 3,” rated PG, contains neither obscenity nor profanity.
The film contains very little overt sexuality, besides the running joke of a lemur’s crush on a bicycle-riding bear and a policeman scolded for “checking out” his female superior, but there is a surprisingly significant amount of veiled innuendo. Though brief and likely to be missed by children, actor Sacha Baron Cohen apparently couldn’t help but infuse some of his sleaze into the subtext of the film.
The movie contains dozens of instances of cartoon violence, with characters smashing into things that would be fatal in real life, but are common in animation. There’s an extended car chase scene and many gunshots, though the gun fires tranquilizer darts. The final scene does contain a bit more violence, as the villain “gets it,” but instances of characters physically fighting are fairly rare. There are a few moments of bathroom humor, boogers and vomit.
The film has no overt occult content, but does include a few blatant religious references, including a scene where the villain walks through fiery smoke, the fumes curling about her like devil’s horns, a scene at the Vatican, including the kissing of the pope’s ring, and an Italian character who repeats prayers to “Sancta Maria.”