Blueprint : The Afro Circus
VoxelArcade Blueprint # 006
Whilst Pixar’s Toy Story films are often hailed as the pinnacle of the animated genre (with the BBC’s esteemed film critic Mark Kermode regarding them as the greatest trilogy of films ever made in any genre), it is Dreamwork’s Madagascar trilogy that holds a place closest to my heart.
With a distinctly more irreverent tone and less of an apparent obsession with delivering a profound life-lesson, the Madagascar series builds upon a solid quartet of perfectly balanced and equally hilarious characters. From the narcissistic lion to the thrill-seeking zebra, hypochondriac giraffe and laissez-faire hippo, these four characters alone would probably have been enough to keep us entertained over a series of films. Not content with settling for that, Dreamworks somehow managed to factor in a pair of sociopathic monkeys, a tribe of deluded lemurs, a crazy old ninja-grandma and an absolutely drop-dead hilarious squad of SAS penguins – with each set of characters being fantastically realised and perfectly acted.
The complete genius of Madagascar is the sublime mixture of this ensemble cast and of how no one link in the chain is either too weak or too dominant. People may look at films like this and think that they’re just for children but even the most critically acclaimed of international directors can learn much from these expertly crafted masterpieces.
By the time we reach the dizzy heights of Madgascar 3, Dreamworks have not only managed to evolve the dynamics of the original line-up of characters but have also managed to succesfully crowbar-in a psychopathic group of animal control officers and an entire circus of animals that features several sub-groups itself. Each one demonstrates its own unique range of emotions from the bitter and twisted tiger to the naïve and well-meaning seal and the pure, emotive jaguar. Oh and let’s not forget the pack of beer-swilling puppies lead by none other than Vinnie Jones himself. Or perhaps the jaded, motorbike-riding bear that develops a somewhat unnatural affection for King Julian?
The list is endless.
Be honest: do any one of these characters evoke a truly meaningful emotional response or have a truly interesting interactions with another?
And it’s whilst you’re watching this unfold for the umpteenth time, still managing to soak-up yet more hidden little details, subtle jokes and character interactions, that you start to ask yourself: if we can manage to achieve such a rich and diverse range of interrelated characters in a children’s film franchise, why on earth can’t we get anywhere close in games?
Aside from the Mario universe, I can’t bring to mind one single franchise that manages to even vaguely fit the bill. Sure, certain games have iconic characters but they’re usually limited to one or maybe two individuals with perhaps the Chief and Cortana or Nate Drake and Sully being the only really heart-warming dynamics that spring to mind. And even the Mario universe with its eclectic range of characters offers nothing in the way of deep interaction or subtle nuances. They’re essentially nothing more than cardboard-cut-outs that represent nothing beyond archaic tropes and lifeless stereotypes.
And so Blueprint # 006, dear Voxelites, is a plea to the games industry to start to invest more time and effort in meaningful ensemble casts. We don’t want just a central hero with a few token-gesture archetypes conveniently placed around them to fill in the blanks any more than we want hollow and literal interpretations of successful movie franchises. What we want is for you to build a truly interesting group of equally important characters that we can actually start to care about and to build upon them from game to game.
And, no: ‘female space-marine’, ‘overweight tech-dude’, ‘damsel in distress’ and ‘disgruntled long-lost brother’ simply aren’t going to cut it.
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