Modestly improving upon the heretofore wretched DreamWorks animation template (a medley of puerile gags, pop-culture references, and racial stereotypes accompanying a mind-numbingly simplistic fairy tale), Madagascar nonetheless fails to approximate rival CGI cartoon house Pixar’s trademark mix of hilarity and poignancy. Life in the Central Park Zoo is heaven for steak-loving lion and star attraction Alex (Ben Stiller), sassy hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), and hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer), but wanderlust-inflicted zebra Marty (Chris Rock), convinced that he’s wasting precious years cooped up in his luxurious city abode, yearns to experience the wondrous pleasures of “the wild.” The black and white-striped mammal gets his chance when, through a series of mishaps, he and his less-than-thrilled friends find themselves stranded on Madagascar, where their only company is chirping lemurs (led by Sacha Baron Cohen’s crazy king Julian) and voracious Foosa predators. On the surface, the film is little more than an ironic fish-out-of-water comedy in which domesticated animals struggle to adapt to their natural habitats, and it’s a relief to find directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath keeping poop jokes (such as one involving a rectal thermometer) and of-the-moment entertainment industry allusions (including unnecessary mentions of Regis & Kelly and Cast Away‘s Wilson) to a relative minimum. Stranger, however, are the film’s muddled thematic objectives. Though clearly intended to promote the idea that home is where your friends are, the film—via Alex’s reversion to, and then subsequent repudiation of, his inherently carnivorous instincts—also manages to endorse the somewhat dubious notion that it’s beneficial and necessary to renounce one’s intrinsic self for the greater good of society and friendship. Still, Madagascar‘s appealing aesthetic—rooted in rubbery, exaggerated angularity, and bright Crayola colors—is a small step up from Shrek‘s creepy roundness. And it’s nice to find that the film’s heart ultimately lies not in the exotic, gorgeous jungle but, rather, in the rich, lively, Technicolor big city, a sentiment felt both in the loving detail bestowed upon its rendering of Grand Central Station, as well as in a comment by a group of rogue Manhattan-bred penguins who, upon finally arriving in Antarctica, succinctly opine about their frigid homeland, “Well, this sucks.”
- Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
- Mark Burton, Billy Frolick
- Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Christopher Knights
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