Reviewed by GREG KING.
Dreamworks and Pixar are the two major players in the screen animation field at the moment, and have clearly overtaken Disney’s traditional domination of this field with their canny blend of fast paced, brilliantly subversive stories, and broad appeal.
The latest animated feature from the Dreamworks studios (which have given us the delightful and incomparable Shrek, Shrek 2, and the lesser Shark Tale, etc) is the entertaining Madagascar, which tells of four zoo-raised animals that are returned to the wilds of the jungle. The four central characters here are the main attractions at New York’s Central Park Zoo, where they are pampered daily and adored by the passing crowds.
The star attraction is undoubtedly Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller). His best friend is Marty the zebra (voiced by motor-mouth comic Chris Rock – maybe Eddie Murphy was unavailable, or he has had enough of cute talking animal movies for the moment?), who is confused over his identity. The quartet is rounded out with Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (voiced by David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett-Smith). Marty has grown tired of being overshadowed by Alex and dreams of living in the wild where he can be free. Inspired by the group of commando-like penguins, Marty makes a daring escape from the zoo.
When his friends track him down, they are captured by wild life services, who decide to send them to the wilds of Africa. The four friends are washed overboard and land on the deserted shores of Madagascar, where they become the unofficial protectors for a group of lemurs. Meanwhile, Alex begins to revert back to his native habits and begins to view his friends as a potential source of food.
A clever, witty script, well-developed characters and fast paced story ensure that Madagascar is another winner from the animation arm of Dreamworks studios. While the animation may not quite be up to the lofty standards of Shrek, etc, this is still another enjoyable romp. The star-studded vocal cast clearly had a ball with their neurotic characters. Sacha Baron Cohen (best known as Ali G) tries to steal most of his scenes as Julien, the narcissistic, jive-talking head of the lemurs, while the antics of the gung-ho penguins are a comical highlight.
Anyone looking for a pleasant film suitable for all ages during the upcoming holidays need look no further than the charming delights of Madagascar. Younger audiences will enjoy the cute animals and their comic antics, but there are plenty of movie references, clever in-jokes and musical themes that will amuse older and savvy audiences.