2005 Certificate: u

Synopsis

In a cartoon caper aimed squarely at little monkeys, four zoo animals from New York, including Ben Stiller's motormouth lion and Chris Rock's inoffensive zebra - find wild adventures - and lots of lemurs - when they wash up on a tropical beach. Sacha Baron Cohen steals the show as melalomaniac lemur King Julien.

Directors

  • Eric Darnell

  • Tom McGrath

Cast

  • Sacha Baron Cohen

  • Ben Stiller

  • Chris Rock

  • David Schwimmer

  • Jada Pinkett Smith

  • Cedric The Entertainer

Review

Advances in animation are all well and good but the almost-real human characters in The Polar Express induced less "Oohs" and "Ahhs" than cries of "Mummy, I'm scared!".

Thankfully, Madagascar is a computer-animated species bred purely for fun from traditional 2D cartoon stock (some of the scenery is even - gasp - hand-drawn!).

Day after day, Marty the Zebra (Rock) looks on as his best friend Alex (Stiller) gets the lion's share of the attention in New York's Central Park Zoo.

Bored and longing for adventure on his tenth birthday, Marty takes his cue from a squad of gung-ho penguins and makes a break for it.

The frantic Alex forms a search party with hypochondriac giraffe Merman (Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Pinkett Smith), but they were never likely to blend in on the subway and before long they're all captured and shipped off to Africa.

Then those mutinous penguins strike again and the four friends find themselves marooned on a strange, exotic shore.

Marty loves it, especially when they find the jungle jumping with party-mad squirrels - sorry, lemurs - whose party-mad king Julien (Cohen) has a good reason make his guests welcome.

But Alex wants to go home... he's starving.

With friendships already on the line, Alex starts to see his pals for what they really are - steak! And while he's fighting his carnivorous urges, Marty, Melman and Gloria are discovering that the wild isn't very civilised.

Madagascar scores points for avoiding the sickly songs and mushy romantic stuff that kids actually hate. For the grown-ups, there are moments of gently subversive humour and neat skits on American Beauty and the original Planet Of The Apes.

The only problem is that the central quartet are somewhat dull. Marty may be a motormouth comedian in equine form but he's no Donkey, Alex's mood-swings become rather annoying, Melman's hypochondria serves no purpose plot-wise and one suspects that Queen Latifah wasn't available to voice Gloria.

But then the most boring character in Shrek is Shrek, so those DreamWorks studio bods obviously know what they're doing.

The secondary characters are much better value. Sacha Baron Cohen makes King Julien more than just a ring-tailed Ali G, Mort the mouse lemur is too cute for his own good, and the penguins (who were originally to star in a movie of their own) are a riot.

Once the effects of the Force (or the Ritalin) have worn off this summer, the under 10s will enjoy a Madagascar-sized dollop of cartoon slapstick to go with their pick 'n' mix.

Elliott Noble