A review of “Madagascar” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG for mildly off-color situations and bathroom humor

Run Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

 

 

Cute and cuddly creatures populate this erratically humorous action adventure from the fine folks who brought you Shrek and Shark Tale.

Chris Rock headlines (in manic Rock fashion) as Marty the Zebra, an angst-ridden genus equus from New York’s Central Park Zoo who’s pondering the meaning of life.  Is he white with black stripes or black with white?

Marty’s discontent washes over his captive brethren – Melman the hypochondriac Giraffe (David Schwimmer), Alex king-of-the-urban-jungle Lion (Ben Stiller), Gloria the glorious Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) – and a restless unease sets in.  A passel of perky penguins planning to tunnel out to Antarctica plant the seed of a grand escape into the wild.

Which leads our beastly adventurers smack into the middle of Grand Central Station and face-to-face with NYPD’s finest.  That unfortunate encounter leads to a capture and crate and a slow boat to Kenya.

But not so fast.  The plotting penguins sabotage the ship and our fearless foursome find themselves washed ashore on an exotic island (the San Diego Zoo perhaps?) populated by nature’s party animals, those wacky and wooly lemurs.  Talk about the call of the wild.

As a character study Madagascar has some fine moments.  Man vs. nature and nature vs. itself are themes ripe for the picking and perfectly in sync with a peculiarly human glass-half-empty slant.  Pop culture and film references abound (Chariots of Fire, Planet of the Apes, etc.) as do an unfortunate excess of fart jokes aimed at the 10-and under crowd.

The animation is solid but hardly groundbreaking – lush and sophisticated when need be and stock quality when not.  Zoo-ers are the primary focus but the second bananas – lemurs on acid and partisan penguins -- steal the show with their fetching antics.  (Antarctic diving birds appear to be summer’s hot ticket; Madagascar is the ideal teaser for Luc Jacquet’s mid-summer treat March of the Penguins).

The cuddly factor ultimately wears thin and the narrative falls short of satisfying mature cinematic appetites. Not on par with the classics but a substantial enough effort destined to please the kiddies.