Time: 80 mins.
Dreamworks still has a way to go before they can truly be considered rivals with Disney, but films like Madagascar prove their claim as a contender for the animation crown is a worthy one. Instead of rehashing classic fairy tales and fables, the company is taking on more modern tales of adventure with less classical heroes and reaping the box office benefits. While not as clever as SHREK, yet more fun than SHARK TALE, Madagascar is one of those great one-sentence ideas you wish you had come up with yourself. New York City zoo animals are shipped back to the wild and forced to learn how to survive. It's not only an interesting concept, as developed here it's pretty hilarious as well.
Our unlucky foursome consists of Marty the Zebra (Rock), Alex the Lion (Stiller), Gloria the Hippo (Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer). Spurned on by his recent birthday and the frenzied ramblings of the zoo's escape-minded penguins, Marty decides to break out of his everyday zoo routine and take a stroll around Manhattan. Realizing their best friend is out and about in the city, his compatriots take off after him to stop him from ruining their cushy gig. Their presence causes quite a stir and lands them on a boat "back home" to Africa. The only one excited about their upcoming change of locale is Marty, who's thrilled to finally be able to roam free. The penguins, however, have other plans and a coup at sea winds up stranding our fine fellows on the remote island of Madagascar. Trouble ensues when their initial acceptance of their drastically changed circumstances is replaced by fear of Alex's baser animal instincts.
What starts as a fish-out-of-water tale, quickly delves into deeper territory exploring the issues of friendship, self-sacrifice and overcoming "human" nature. While not as touching a personal journey as NEMO, the writers make the dilemma Alex faces how to stay friends with food, i.e. Marty both heartfelt and engrossing. The film's simple concept would quickly wear out it's uniqueness if not for great character development and outstanding visuals. The world of Madagascar looks like a traditional children's book, but moves with a fluidity of motion and visual pizzazz that only 3-D animation generates. It's the next generation of cartoon with characters that have realistic aspects (like flowing hair), yet act and react like only animated creatures can. It's a wonderfully entertaining blend of the latest technology and old-school art and movement. They create their own environment while still maintaining a believable version of ours.
All the actors give hilarious performances, especially Stiller and Rock who make you believe in their friendship even though I'm sure they were never in the same room together. Pinkett Smith and Schwimmer are definitely playing second fiddles, but they manage to sneak in plenty of laughs from their characters to keep them from being totally upstaged. However, the penguins give all of them a run for their money. They are absolutely hysterical and help fill out the slender story with a wacky journey of their own you have to see to believe. The lemurs they find on the island (voiced by Cedric, Richter and Cohen) are cute and occasionally funny, but not all that interesting in the grand scheme of things. MADAGASCAR is an entertaining way to pass 80 minutes and only repeated viewing will determine whether this film is merely mind candy or a worthy classic.