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"Madagascar" Movie Review

The Pack of Plucky Penguins is Perfect

By

Madagascar Movie Photo

A scene from the animated family comedy, "Madagascar"

© DreamWorks Pictures
Let me admit right off the bat that the trailers for “Madagascar” did nothing for me. While “Shrek” and its sequel both had me at hello, “Madagascar” was a tough sell. Chris Rock has a decent voice for animated movies, but Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett-Smith and David Schwimmer aren’t exactly known for their voice work, and the trailers and clips didn't convince me they should look for more jobs in that particular field. Fortunately for moviegoers, the humor – in large part supplied by four wily, scene-stealing penguins - is strong enough to make up for the film’s lack of enchanting voices.

A kiddie comedy that’ll work just as well for adults, “Madagascar” follows the misadventures of four animal buddies who live at New York’s 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, he’s got some confinement issues. Seems the aforementioned penguins have filled his head with talk of the wild and Marty’s ready to bust out of the Zoo and discover what life’s 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, don’t 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 they’ve arrived at the San Diego Zoo (the World’s Greatest Zoo – sorry, I’m 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?

“Madagascar’s” 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 who’s a hypochondriac – all these gags will fly right over kids’ heads but will keep the adults in the audience entertained.

While there’s a lot that does work, “Madagascar’s” 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 Alex’s eyes is creepy and kind of made me wince. The circle of life plotline and the fact there’s far too little time spent with the band of marauding penguins are the film’s 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.

GRADE: B

"Madagascar" was directed by Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell and is rated PG for mild language, crude humor and some thematic elements.

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