Somewhere between the fairy tale abuse of Shrek and the retro pop culture of Shark Tale lies the happy medium of Madagascar.
At the Central Park Zoo in New York, Marty the Zebra (voiced by Chris Rock) dreams of “The Wild,” a place where everything is perfect and he can run free. His buddy and feature zoo attraction, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), is content where he is getting all the attention (and prime-cut steaks) he wants. Everything goes south when Marty breaks out and Alex goes after him, along with zoo pals Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). All of them wind up boxed up and shipped out to places unknown, but a group of enterprising penguins have other ideas…
DreamWorks Animation’s latest feature finally tries a few new things that haven’t been taken advantage of in the computer-animated medium before. Like Disney’s Hercules, corners and edges have a distinctive swirl that’s prevelant throughout the production design; Madagascar employs a similar technique that’s less of a technological compromise and more of a design choice. In fact, the zany unpredictability seldom seen since the classic Warner Bros. cartoons rears its long-missed head for this film, showing off the advantages of animation instead photo-realism.
Unfortunately, for all the manic moments and hilarious dance sequences, the 86 minute running time is surprisingly padded while obvious filler (and better character development) went underused. David Schwimmer’s Melman could have lifted his lines from the “Friends” boxed sets; showing children the giraffe’s favorite treat, a cart full of prescription drugs, isn’t really all that funny when you think about it, either. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Gloria could have lent much more moral support to the situation but is ultimately as underused as Schwimmer. True, the film’s story revolves around Stiller and Rock, but what about the monkeys? Or more with the penguins? Heck, we don’t even really meet “the bad guys.”
Madagascar mostly works for what it’s shooting for: a generally kid-friendly film that keeps everyone occupied for just under an hour and a half. Any mandatory sequels should have plenty to draw on with more time spent on story and less trying to pad screen time, but that remains to be seen. This film is infinitely easier to watch than Shark Tale and preferable to the most recent Shrek sequel, but a film starring just the penguins (and a PG rating) would much appreciated.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)