Alex the Lion (voice of Ben Stiller) is the show king of the urban jungle, the main attraction at New York's Central Park Zoo. He and his best friends Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) have lived their entire lives in blissful captivity, with regular meals provided and an admiring public. When, after an escape prompted by well meaning penguins, they find themselves 'freed' in the jungles of Madagascar, these native New Yorkers have to figure out how to adapt to 'the wild'.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A promising premise, a top voice cast and a studio with an impressive track record sets up expectations that Madagascar just can't fulfil. A handful of funny scenes and a few clever animated renditions (water, lion's mane, penguins) don't add up to a wild time, and the script seems short of ideas.
Further limiting the film's appeal, the character designs for the four principals - Alex the Lion (voice of Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) - are neither attractive nor cute nor even just outlandishly funny.
The opening scenes trundle along with a sense of hard labour, and a confused set of inner logic; these zoo animals are both naïve innocents and informed locals, making it difficult for us to scope them out. There is a denial of their animal instincts - until some of that is unwound in Madagascar when Alex the Lion gets desperately hungry and sees the Zebra as lunch. But even here the humour seems forced and scant.
The odd laugh and the odd sparkle in the script shows what might have been, but someone should have halted the production and sent it back to the drawing board before it was completed. There are, however, some fun compensations in the sound track, which opens with a deliberately schmalzy arrangement of Born Free and includes snatches of New York New York with tongue in cheek, likewise Stayin' Alive, The Candy Man (the Sammy Davis original, which kiddies won't recognise as a coded song for the man with the drugs), the theme from Hawaii Five-0, and a wickedley funny moment with Chariots of Fire. If only the rest of the film had matched these moments ....
Review by Louise Keller:
The beginning of Madagascar is sparkling, sharp and witty with fun animal characters that will have you laughing out loud. But that's only the beginning, when we meet the wild animals that live a pretty tame life as the stars of a New York Zoo. The rest of the film, when they get shipped to the REAL wild is pretty tame. A bit of a shame, because it stops this new animation from the makers of Shrek and Shark's Tale from being an outright winner.
It's enjoyable in parts for all ages, especially youngsters who will no doubt warm to the unlikely friendships between beasts that are normally predator and prey. There's a pussy-cat show-lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) that poses, preens, does one-arm push-ups and dreams of steaks, steaks and steaks. And his golden Tina Turner-like mane is blow-dried. Chris Rock distinctly and energetically voices the lion's restless 'monochromatic friend' the zebra, who dreams of leaving the pampered life in the Zoo, to live in the jungle. Then there's a hypochondriac giraffe (voiced by David Schwimmer) who is all neck, hoofs and feet, and the blob of the supposedly hip hippo wastes the voice talents of Jada Pinkett-Smith. I like the idea of the four earnest penguins who believe they are digging their way to Antarctica and then sabotage the ship that is carrying the animals being transferred. However, we never really warm to them or the other animals. It's all played just for laughs.
It crossed my mind that after the fanfare of the opening schtick, the scriptwriters had nowhere else to go. The fish-out-of-water concept is fine, but once the animals have been unceremoniously dumped on the sandy shores of Madagascar, whose jungles are filled with dancing lemurs that collect human skeletons, it's as though the ideas have been dumped as well.
Visually, the computer-generated animation is bright and colourful, and the music references like Born Free, Chariots of Fire and Alex the Lion's favourite song, New York New York, are a nice touch. We travel from the urban jungle of the Big Apple to the fantasy of an exotic tropical destination of Madagascar. The elements of star voice cast and filmmakers are worthy of a better result. You know that song 'It's not how you start but how you finish?' It certainly doesn't work the other way around.
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VOICES: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer
PRODUCER: Teresa Cheng, Mireille Soria
DIRECTOR: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
SCRIPT: Mark Burton, Billy Frolick
EDITOR: Mark A. Hester
MUSIC: Hans Zimmer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kendal Cronkhite (art direction)
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 16, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
VIDEO RELEASE: November 23, 2005