© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinket Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
Writers: Mark Burton, Billy Frolick
Distributor: DreamWorks
MPAA Rating: PG for mild language, crude humor and brief reference to drugs
Running time: 80 minutes

Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Animation – 8
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total Score – 6.4 out of 10

The only thing I can say about MADAGASCAR is this: I’m glad I’m not a parent with tots. I will tell you why in a few minutes. But first, the story:

Alex the lion (Stiller), Marty the zebra (Rock), Melman the giraffe (Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Smith) are four lovable Central Park Zoo animal stars. They live in a pampering and secure environment (albeit captive), and are adored by millions of human fans. Alex, in particular, is the king for attention. His best friend Marty, however, has a literal midlife crisis. He yearns to run free in the wild. So, on the night of his 10th birthday, he escaped from the Zoo trying to get to Connecticut, at the suggestion of four “psychotic” penguins who try to escape.

When his friends find out he’s gone, they go after him. Then they’re captured and sent off to Africa on a cargo ship. The penguins manage to hijack the ship, but in the process, Alex et el are thrown overboard. They end up on a remote tropical island, where they meet a group of lemurs, who think Alex is some kind of savior. Marty wants to stay and be free, and Alex is hungry and dying to go home. Their friendship is put the test when circumstances prevent them from seeing eye to eye.

Stiller (MEET THE FOCKERS) is rather charming as the egotistical but loyal Alex. Though with eight Stiller movies out in the past 12 months, one can’t help but feel relieved that only his voice can be heard. Rock (HEAD OF STATE) actually tones down to give Marty a spirited voice. At times, he still gets annoying, but that fits the character nicely. Schwimmer (DUANE HOPWOOD) is typecast as the dopey, nervous, hypochondriac Melman. But again, his voice is perfect for the character. Smith (COLLATERAL) is sweet and sisterly as Gloria. Singer Cohen lends a frantic voice as King Julian the lemur, and Cedric (BE COOL) gives an interesting personality to Julian’s skeptical chancellor, Maurice.

Directed by Darnell (ANTZ) and McGrath (TV’s KABLAM!), MADAGASCAR has a frantic pace. The tone is generally light and the characters cuddly. The animation is serviceable, if not exceptional. Notable, however, is the quality of the 3D animation that looks, at times, hand drawn. Some scenes are beautifully rendered. The film is certainly pleasing to the eyes, if forgettable.

My biggest problem with the film is the writing. Clearly, the film is targeted at a younger set, what with the cuddly animals, colorful shapes and images, frantic pace and broad humor and action. Nothing wrong with that, unless you’re the adult accompanying the younglings. Usually, we expect witty adult humor and pop culture references from DreamWorks to entertain the grownups as well. Surely there are enough crude humor and pop references (complete with a silly rendition of “New York, New York”) in the film, but they’re just not very funny.

It’s also hard to accept the fact that zoo animals know how to take the subway, steer a ship, build shelters, make fire, drink cocktails and prepare sushi. Sure, they do that in A BUG’S LIFE and ANTZ and SHARK TALES, but it worked in those films because the stories were set in fantasy worlds. Here, the story is set in modern day reality, much like FINDING NEMO, so logic should play a part. I find the logic unacceptable, and so it’s not possible to get into the story.

Not to mention the story is really paper thin. There is no overriding moral, except something vaguely about friendship and the ubiquitous theme of “knowing who you are.” The lack of a strong storytelling makes the film only a slight offering as a family film. It’s probably entertaining enough for the young ones. The adults might be better off watching the obscure 1994 Spanish film, MADAGASCAR, instead.

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