Reviewed By U.J. Lessing
Posted 05/28/05 06:10:53

"This is not Scorsese, folks, but it sure is a cute cartoon."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

More like a childís picture book, than a summer blockbuster, Madagascar is refreshingly unpretentious in its goals. Itís not out to deliver a moral message. Itís not trying to accurately render animals. It certainly doesnít want to make its audience think. Heck, itís not even trying to win over adults. Madagascar is a simple story designed to make children laugh, and it succeeds splendidly.

The film is friendly and practically villain-free. Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) live in the center of New Yorkís Central Park Zoo and lead a blissful carefree life performing for crowds and getting treated like royalty.

However, things go awry when the zebra gets restless. When the restive and anti-social penguins escape from the zoo, Marty follows their lead, and escapes into the wild. His friends give chase and they are all captured and shipped off to Africa.

After the penguins sabotage the ship, the four animals find themselves washed ashore on the island of Madagascar. There, their skills and friendships are put to the test as they attempt to stay alive and help a pack of cute furry lemurs.

While Ben Stiller, Chris Rock and David Schwimmer provide competent, but forgettable voice-overs, Jada Pinkett Smith is creative and delightful as Gloria. She provides (excuse my pun) weight to her hippo and creates a charming and lovable characterization.

Another standout voice is Sacha Baron Cohen as Julian, the king of the lemurs. Cohen (better known for his alter-ego, Ali-G) channels the ghost of Peter Sellers as he constructs an accented, frenzied king who is simultaneously wise and imbecilic.

Though the charactersí faces are not particularly expressive, their bodies are another story. The animalsí frames are continually bouncing, twisting, wobbling and bending. This physicality can be wearing, but more often than not, itís delightful.

The animation of Madagascar is somewhat cruder than most computer-rendered films. Gone are elaborate and ornate animated sequences, and one suspects that the animators were working on a pretty tight budget.

However, unlike Finding Nemo or Robots, Madagascar is not attempting to emulate realism. Instead the animators seem to have focused on capturing the look, style and pacing of a childrenís book.

The painted backgrounds, basic characters, and distinctive locations all give Madagascar the feel of a Caldecott award-winning book. After seeing Madagascar, head out to your local bookstore and grab, ďThe Escape of Marvin the Ape,Ē by Caralyn and Mark Buehner to see what I am talking about.

This is a sweet story with an abundance of gags. Directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath keep things moving at an even clip, and while adults wonít find too much that is memorable, writers Mark Burton and Billy Frolick provide some clever movie allusions that will float comfortably over your childrenís heads.

No, Madagascar doesnít excel to the high standards that Pixar has set, but, honestly, what does? Madagascar is a great kidís film. Itís a film jam packed with sight gags, it has a cool story, and your children will adore you for taking them. What more do you want?

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