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Film review

Wacky wild things

In Madagascar, whimsical cartoon creatures rough it in the wild after the soft life of a Big Apple zoo.

Published May 26, 2005

Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) is pampered at the Central Park Zoo before getting shipped off to a preserve and washing up on an island.

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What's the king of beasts, a star attraction at the Central Park Zoo, to do at the end of the day, long after the kiddies have stopped screaming in delight and the families have all gone home?

Loopy lion Alex, a real showoff of a big cat voiced by Ben Stiller in the animated comedy Madagascar, is content to scarf down a steak or two, hang out with his animal pals and go to sleep in a faux cave illuminated by a clap-on night light, his dreams filled with prime cuts of beef.

Hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer, going whiny a la Woody Allen) and fun-loving hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), are also reasonably happy with life at the zoo. The backdrop is a beautifully realized Manhattan, with a skyline that includes the neon sign atop the Essex Westin House.

Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) shares their laid-back, if monotonous, life. Instead of fantasizing about T-bones, though, he dreams of flying the coop and taking in the clean air and wide open spaces of "the wild." The theme from Born Free is the first of a relatively short line of pop-culture references - including television's Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and Hawaii Five-O and the movies Castaway, Chariots of Fire and Frankenstein - sure to fly over the kids' heads.

Madagascar, gorgeous-looking but less inspired than its computer-generated predecessors, is the summer's most highly anticipated animated movie. It gets off to a rousing start, with a little help from a quartet of slap-happy, heist-minded penguins (two are voiced by co-directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath) who deserve their own short film.

The Manhattan scenes, including a long chase sequence with a mad dash across city streets that ends in a standoff with authorities at Grand Central Station, are the film's funniest and most dramatically potent.

From there, the friends find themselves crated up and shipped off to an Kenyan preserve, only to wash up on a tropical island en route. They're not in New York anymore, nor are they, as Alex suspects, at the San Diego Zoo.

There, Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria fight among themselves and encounter a variety of strange sights and sounds, including a colony of lemurs led by scheming goofball King Julien XIII (Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as Ali G.), and a band of frightening, hyenalike beasts.

Alex, despite his best intentions, gets so hungry for steak that he begins to have hallucinations. His claws extend as he mistakes everything, including his friends, for ripe-red raw meat. "I'm a monster," he laments.

But through sheer strength of will, and the love of a good friend or two, Alex successfully avoids eating his buddies. This time. Let's hope the sequel doesn't leave the four stranded in the Andes.


Grade: B

Directors: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath

Cast: Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer and Andy Richter

Screenplay: Mark Burton, Billy Frolick, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath

Rating: PG; comic animal violence

Running time: 86 min.

[Last modified May 25, 2005, 09:51:08]

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