MovieMakers

Who's That Voice?

Ben Stiller, voicing Alex the lion in "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," says one of the strange parts of animation work is being alone in the studio. Stiller and Chris Rock, who plays a zebra, worked together only one day.
Ben Stiller, voicing Alex the lion in "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," says one of the strange parts of animation work is being alone in the studio. Stiller and Chris Rock, who plays a zebra, worked together only one day. (Dreamworks Animation)
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 2008

When Ben Stiller and Chris Rock were first asked to become a talking lion and a cartoon zebra, neither had toddlers to impress or PTA colleagues to please.

Stiller was quite busy actually, strutting down fashion runways as the "really, really, ridiculously good-looking" Derek Zoolander. Rock was doing some strutting of his own, across the stages of his sold-out comedy shows and barking obscenities.

So why'd they sign up for "Madagascar," an animated movie about escaped Central Park Zoo animals on the lam in Madagascar?

"It just seemed fun," Stiller recalls, now seven years later on the eve of the opening of the sequel, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa."

And it was fun, as it turned out. Fun for him, fun for Rock, fun for millions of moviegoers and more than half-a-billion dollars' worth of fun for DreamWorks.

If you want to know where Hollywood is hanging out these days, check that DreamWorks studio. Or its competition down at Pixar. Or at the back entrance to each, banging on the door to get in.

Doing voice work for animated films has never been a more popular career move for sought-after stars, one that's enjoyable, shows some winking playfulness, offers very little risk and huge potential for upside. Think Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Tom Hanks.

More Than a Kids' Movie

Chris Rock has a six-word philosophy for picking film projects: "Just go with the best movie."

Thus, he signed on to "Madagascar" and its sequel simply because "they're good movies!" Makes no difference if it's live action, animated or Claymation; it's not method that matters, he says, but the material. "I'm a comedian," he says. "Anything that's funny I want to be involved in. . . . This is definitely as funny as any live-action film I've been involved in."

That might come as a surprise to fans of Rock's trademark envelope-pushing adult humor. But he and Stiller say it's the fact that these kid-centric movies are so rife with high-level comedy that makes them enticing -- to them as actors and to the grown-ups forking over cash at the box office.

"It's fun sometimes for adults to be watching a quote-unquote kids movie and see a joke that they think, 'Oh, wow, I can't believe they actually put that in there,' " Stiller says. "You can elbow your wife and go, 'Wow, can you believe that?' And the kids, it'll go right over their heads."


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