A kiddie comedy thatll work just as well for adults, Madagascar follows the misadventures of four animal buddies who live at New Yorks Central Park Zoo. Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer), Gloria the Hippo (Pinkett Smith), and Alex the Lion (Stiller) love the adoration of the crowds but Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), well, hes got some confinement issues. Seems the aforementioned penguins have filled his head with talk of the wild and Martys ready to bust out of the Zoo and discover what lifes like outside the walls.
Fed up with being handfed, Marty makes a break for it and his three buddies have to follow suit to track him down and convince him to return to the safety of the Zoo. Unfortunately the human inhabitants of NYC, who are usually pretty good at putting up with everything and everybody, dont take well to a hippo, giraffe, lion, and zebra on the loose. After capturing the escaped beasts, animal rights activists decide the poor things must really want to return to their native land and promptly ship them off to Africa. While onboard the ship, those rebellious, ninja-like penguins decide to take control, accidentally sending the crates containing the confused buddies off the ship to eventually float ashore on Madagascar.
Thinking theyve arrived at the San Diego Zoo (the Worlds Greatest Zoo sorry, Im from San Diego and have to show support for the home team), the gang goes looking for the humans in charge. Instead, they come upon a community of lemurs led by a weirdo named King Julian (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen who provides the best vocal performance of the film). Dubbing the group the New York Giants, Julian welcomes them to the fold.
Shortly after landing on Madagascar, the zoo-raised animals figure out they need to find food. The search takes a potentially deadly turn when Alex the lion begins to envision his buddy Marty the zebra as a plump, juicy steak. Which of course raises a few questions: Can animals raised in captivity learn to live in the wild? Can our heroes survive among a herd of lemurs who love to party? And more importantly, will anyone who sees Madagascar ever be able to look at penguins the same way again?
Madagascars fun, clever, and has a decent mixture of humor aimed at kids and jokes tossed in for the adults to make it tolerable to audiences of all ages. References to HMOs, "The Great Escape," "American Beauty," a lemur with a panicked look holding up a book titled To Serve Lemur, and a giraffe whos a hypochondriac all these gags will fly right over kids heads but will keep the adults in the audience entertained.
While theres a lot that does work, Madagascars a little disconcerting in that its main storyline has to do with a predator turning on his friends once his food supply is gone. The vision of lemurs turning into steaks and dancing in front of Alexs eyes is creepy and kind of made me wince. The circle of life plotline and the fact theres far too little time spent with the band of marauding penguins are the films biggest drawbacks.
Basically a fun summer popcorn movie (if you can get past the mammals morphing into steaks scene), Madagascar should capture the same audience that Shark Tale ensnared. Not quite as witty as either Shrek movie, Madagascar compensates by being far more visually interesting. And it does have the best animated penguins ever to appear in a feature film.
"Madagascar" was directed by Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell and is rated PG for mild language, crude humor and some thematic elements.