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Madagascar Review

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Holed up in Central Park Zoo, pampered zebra Marty (Rock) gets itchy hooves and decides to explore the Big Apple. When his buddies — vain lion Alex (Stiller), straight-talking hippo Gloria (Pinkett Smith) and neurotic giraffe Melman (Schwimmer) — go after

★★★★★

There is something deliciously neat about the premise of DreamWorks’ latest CG offering; taking institutionalised zoo animals and throwing them into their natural, wild habitat is an idea seemingly full of rich pickings. But Eric Darnell (Antz) and Tom McGrath’s (The Ren And Stimpy Show) film fails to fully mine the concept for comedic gold.

It is visually splendid, has a smattering of good set-pieces and gags and a likeable atmosphere, but it does not have the coherence nor the consistency to give anyone at Pixar a sleepless night.

Animation-wise, there is some gorgeous stuff here (the animals exploring New York at night), and the intention — to try and inject the sight gags and freeform visual lunacy of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery into the rigid realism of computer animation — is admirable. Yet while the characters’ eyes pop, jaws drop and bodies twist and contort, what Madagascar won’t commit to is the cruelty that made Avery and Jones so laugh-out-loud funny. What’s left is a lot of broad gurning and slapstick, some of which hits, most of which does not.

As ever with feature-length animation, a lot of the pleasures can be found outside the main plot; there are a couple of beautifully orchestrated movie musical moments, particularly a jungle rave thrown by a tribe of techno-tastic lemurs (“I like to moove it, mooove it”) whipped up by Baron Cohen’s King Julian. There are also some memorable bit-part players: a pair of highbrow monkeys who want to join the New York literati and “throw poo at Tom Wolfe” and, best of all, a squad of crack SWAT-team penguins who liven up proceedings every time things threaten to become tedious.

Yet where Madagascar falls down is in simple storytelling know-how. In the initial zoo sequences, the motivations and set-ups are clearly defined, but

when the characters get shipwrecked, the plotting runs aground with them, grinding to a halt as the foursome argue for an eternity on a sun-kissed beach. While the characters are likeable riffs on the actor’s recognisable personas — Schwimmer’s giraffe is Ross Geller with a long neck — none of them are loveable, so the film fails to deliver the requisite uplift it is so patently striving for.

More enjoyable than Shark Tale but falling way short of Shrek, Madagascar doesn’t really live up to the promise that the idea and voice talent deserve. But it’s still spirited, amiable, featherweight summer fun.