This CGI cartoon comes from the Dreamworks animation stable, a company with a far from shabby track record who are perhaps the only people to offer any serious rivalry to Pixar, having made Shark Tale and the wonderful Shrek and Shrek 2. Their new film, Madagascar, is however aimed at a slightly younger audience, though there are still a number of slick jokes aimed mainly at accompanying adults.
Madagascar starts with a very simple premise; that animals can talk to one another and that humans cannot understand them – not of course unheard of in the cartoon genre. It’s initially set in New York’s Central Park Zoo, where the animals live the high life, not that they know it. The simple central focus of the film is on the friendship between Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). The film takes a while to get going, spending much of its first half establishing Marty’s longing to see something of the wild and Alex’s desire to stay right where he is – naturally since he’s the main attraction at the zoo.
The second half of the film is much funnier, the action concerning the animals’ adventures on the island of Madagascar. Once there, they meet a strange tribe of lemurs led by, the frankly crazy, King Julien (voice provided by a certain Sacha Baron Cohen) and his sceptical sidekick Maurice (American stand-up Frederick the Entertainer). Naturally the main characters find their friendship tested; no longer pampered by the zookeepers they find their true natures beginning to appear, to reasonably amusing effect.
However, there is no doubt who the stars of this film are: The Penguins. These birds appear to think they are in some kind of James Bond style escape movie and without a doubt they get all the best lines. It may not sound like it but the phrase “cute and cuddly, boys” will keep you chuckling long after the film has finished.
All the actors on voice duties do an acceptable job, although the four main characters are rather too predictable. This is especially true of David Schwimmer whose hypochondriac giraffe Melman is basically an animated version of Ross in Friends. Sacha Baron Cohen however manages to steer clear of Ali G territory while voicing the bonkers King Julien with rather endearing results.
Not quite as sharp as previous Dreamworks films, and taking a good while to warm up, Madagascar is however funny and short enough to engage even the shortest of attention spans. Children will love the animal capers and adults will love the in-jokes – and The Penguins, who without a doubt deserve their own movie.