Madagascar Movie Review

Somehow, somewhere I lost the notes I took during thepress screening of "Madagascar," and I didn't realize it untilI sat down to write this review some two weeks later. But having spentthe last hour jotting down everything I could recall about the computer-animatedcritter comedy, I've managed to confirmed one thing I do remember thinkingat the time: "Madagascar" is largely forgettable.

A screwball adventure about four animals who escape fromtheir supposedly cushy captivity of the Central Park Zoo and eventuallyend up lost in the wild, "Madagascar" has good energy, fairlysteady chuckles for kids (fart jokes and spit-takes galore), and a fewout-loud laughs for adults, mostly stemming from hilarious homages to moviesfrom "Chariots of Fire" to "AmericanBeauty" to "Planet of the Apes."

But eliciting more than a passing interest in the creaturecharacters and their escapades is another matter. While the animation iscreatively stylized (the animals have blocky toes, spiraled nostrils andamusing flexibility), their personalities have no panache because theirvoices lack verve.

Ben Stiller provides a little ho-hum egoism as pamperedlion Alex, who becomes panicked about coping with life on a tropical islandwhere the foursome crash-lands after falling overboard from a ship takingthem to a Kenya preserve. ChrisRock voices antsy zebra Marty, whose itch toexplore leads the critters into entertaining episodes in Times Square andGrand Central Station before they're captured and put on that ship in thefirst place. David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett-Smith are a hypochondriacgiraffe and a sassy hippo who get more than they bargained for by searchingManhattan for the runway zebra.

Unlike the vocal talents used in Pixar cartoons (imagineany "ToyStory," "Monsters,Inc." or "FindingNemo" character, and you can still heartheir voices), the celebrities cast in this DreamWorks production bringnothing distinctive to their roles. While Rock's high-pitched impishnessis a good match for Marty the zebra, whose embrace of feral freedom drivesurbanized Alex the lion crazy, the most memorable characters are an incidentalpassel of prison-thug penguins who are also zoo escapees, voiced by thepicture's producers and directors (Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell).

On the jungle island, the zoo animals befriend a tribeof wacko lemurs (whose slightly more distinct voices include Ali G, Cedricthe Entertainer and Andy Richter), but the story arc focuses on Alex fightingthe resurgence of dormant hunting instincts so that he doesn't eat hisfriends. The cop-out solution arrived at by writers Mark Burton and BillyFrolick simply values one kind of animal over another. Suffice it to sayone shouldn't watch this movie back-to-back with "Finding Nemo."

But on the other hand, doing so would certainly make itclear why "Madagascar," while amusing enough for a cheap Saturdaymatinee, doesn't have the originality, the style, the heart, the agelesshumor -- and especially not the unforgettable characters -- required tostand the test of time.


Madagascar Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG, WIDE: Friday, May 27, 2005


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