The Dreamworks animated film, Madagascar, debuted in theaters in the summer of 2005. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have seen the film, and many were probably hearing the word ‘lemur’ for the first time.
The film remains popular, especially with children. Those working in zoo education know that the film has helped children not only recognize lemurs, but also know the name of the only place in the world where they are found, Madagascar. And if anyone is stumped at first, all you need to say is “I like to move it, move it.”
Ultimately, Dreamworks’ Madagascar is not a film about Madagascar or lemurs.
It is about the adventures of a lion, zebra, hippo, and giraffe from the Central Park Zoo. But even if it’s not a movie about Madagascar or lemurs, it features a host of engaging lemur characters and fascinating imagery of Madagascar. Thus, it’s an incredible opportunity for conservation and science educators.Learning and Teaching Resources
Using the Dreamworks film to help students learn about lemurs, Madagascar, and biodiversity
While there are scientific inaccuracies in the animated Madagascar movie, we can still use it to inspire and educate children about lemurs and the biodiversity of Madagascar. Below, we discuss what the Dreamworks film gets right and wrong about lemurs and Madagascar. The inaccuracies can, in fact, be the perfect introduction to teaching about lemurs, their conservation status, and their home in Madagascar.
What the Film Gets Right about Lemurs and Madagascar
There are some things the animated film gets right that can be great teaching tools.
A variety of lemur species are represented.
Pay close attention to the scenes featuring lemurs. You can see a large variety of different species fairly accurately represented. The main lemurs are Julien the ring-tailed lemur, Maurice the aye-aye, and Mort the mouse lemur. But you can also see red ruffed lemurs, black and white ruffed lemurs, multiple species of sifakas, crowned lemurs, blue-eyed black lemurs, and brown lemurs. These fun, animated characters a great way to teach about the immense diversity of the 112+ lemur species in Madagascar.
Fossas are one of the main natural predators of lemurs.
Fossas are prominent in the film as the animal that the lemurs fear the most. Teachers can use fossas in lessons about predator-prey relationships, the magnificent biodiversity and endemism of Madagascar, and the importance of lemurs to all animals on the island. Other natural predators for many lemurs are large birds like hawks.
Madagascar has many unique habitats, and its wildlife has adapted to live in it.
Madagascar also highlights the beauty and diversity of the island’s many habitats. Use this imagery to teach about the regions of Madagascar and how different lemurs are adapted for different environments. The film showcases rainforests and beaches, the jagged rocks of the tsingy, majestic Baobab trees, and the cacti of the spiny forest.
Madagascar has lots of unique wildlife in addition to lemurs.
The film features many of Madagascar’s other unique wildlife in cameos, including geckos, chameleons, boas, crocodiles, and tenrecs. In fact, Madagascar is home to the world’s smallest chameleon, the world’s smallest primates, and tons of fascinating plant and animal species that are specially adapted to live in the unique habitats across the island. Seeing so many of these species in the animated Madagascar movie is a real treat!Top 10 Facts about Lemurs
What the Film Gets Wrong about Lemurs and Madagascar
Learn about some of the inaccuracies in the film and bust some myths from the Dreamworks Madagascar movie.
Myth 1: Male lemurs rule the troops.
In the movie, King Julien is the ring-tailed lemur who is king of all the lemurs. But in reality, it should be Queen Julien! In ring-tailed lemur groups, and most lemur species, females are in charge. Female lemurs get preferential treatment, like the best food and sleeping spots.
Myth 2: There are no or very few people that live on Madagascar.
In the movie, there is not a single living person on the island. In the real world, there are over 26 million people that call Madagascar home. It is also one of the world’s financially poorest countries, with most of the population living on less than $2 a day.
Myth 3: Madagascar is a pristine haven for wildlife.
It is true that 90% of Madagascar’s plants and animals live nowhere else, and this makes the island very special for biodiversity. But, much of Madagascar’s forests have been damaged or destroyed in the 19th and 20th century. Now, lemurs are known to be the most endangered group of mammals on Earth because their habitats are shrinking.Conservation Threats and Solutions for Lemurs
Anthropomorphizing lemurs in the animated movie, Madagascar
The benefits of anthropomorphizing lemurs
Using the love of lemurs the film instills can be the ultimate first step in getting children to want to learn more about lemurs. Anthropomorphizing the animals creates an emotional connection to the characters that inspires a deeper appreciation than a non-talking animal could.
The ultimate goal of a filmmaker is to help people make an emotional connection to the characters. Anthropomorphic animals are a common tool to achieve this. Likewise, the ultimate goal of conservation educators is also to create emotional connections with animals. Additionally, educators hope this will lead to conservation actions to protect those animals in the wild.
If an animated movie can help more people love lemurs, we can use that love to educate and inspire them to take conservation action to help protect lemurs.
The problem with anthropomorphizing lemurs is it encourages the pet lemur trade.
There are also negative consequences of using the film which should be addressed when teaching. Studies have shown that viewing primates in anthropomorphic settings can increase their desirability as a pet. It can also increase the likelihood that viewers don’t believe the animal is endangered.
The pet lemur trade threatens the survival of lemurs in Madagascar, as babies are often taken from the wild to be household pets or live in captive tourist settings. And, the most common pet lemurs in are ring-tailed lemurs, just like King Julien from the film Madagascar.
So, lessons should explain that even though the lemurs in the film may seem cute and fun, they do not make good pets.Learn about the Dangers of Lemurs as Pets
Embracing the film as an educational tool
We hope that zoo and conservation educators embrace the Dreamworks’ animated Madagascar movie as an important teaching tool, now and into the future. We hope it inspires life-long learning of these amazing animals and the fascinating island they call home.
About this post and its authors
This post was created in 2015 by LCN’s former Director and zoo educator, Corey Romberg. It was updated in 2021 by Lynne Venart, LCN’s Digital Communications Manager, to include more up-to-date information and links.