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Madagascar (2005)

Wild Life

Someones got a zoo loose.

Directed by:

Eric Darnell

Tom McGrath

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 86 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: U

Talking animals have long been a staple of the animation industry. Be it Baloo in ‘The Jungle Book’, Simba in The Lion King or – my own personal favourites – daft doggy duo ‘Ren & Stimpy’, we can all reel off the names of many a cartoon critter gifted in the art of conversation. Dreamworks will be hoping, then, that in years to come we’ll all be looking back on Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo with as much fondness as we do Nemo the clownfish, Thumper the rabbit or Winnie the – er – Pooh.

This latest attempt from Dreamworks to loosen the mighty Pixar’s stranglehold on the CGI toon market kicks off in New York’s Central Park Zoo. Frighteningly low fences allow the beasts to chat freely with another, and it’s from doing so that zebra Marty (voiced by Chris Rock) decides he wants to make a break for the wild. His three pals tag along, but when they finally make it to the lush jungles of Madagascar they find freedom might not be all it’s cracked up to be. For one thing, lion Alex (Ben Stiller) seems to be developing the nasty habit of trying to eat his mates. The cheek of it!

‘Madagascar’ makes for a pleasant enough hour-and-a-half, but it’s fair to assume it won’t be joining the ranks of the all-time classics any time soon. The story takes a bit too long to get into its stride, and the animation – though technically perfect – is visually underwhelming given the opportunities provided by such exotic locations. What’s more, the writing team’s efforts at lampooning movies of bygone years (‘Castaway’, ‘Planet of the Apes’ and American Beauty are among those referenced) have all been seen before: frankly, it’s a lazy comedy tactic which is swiftly growing a beard.

On the up side, the film has some good gags, a lovely soundtrack and an enthusiastic voice-over cast. In fact, one of the stand-out performances comes from Ali G creator Sascha Baron Cohen as Julien, the hilarious king of the island’s local lemur population. It’s the little touches like those lemurs, and a crack team of escapologist penguins, that make the movie just about worth seeing. Certainly its bright colours and lively characters should be enough to keep most younger kiddies amused. It’ll take more than this to get Pixar shaking in their shoes though.

It's Got: A penguin with a bottle of sun tan lotion.

It Needs: To up security at that zoo – it’s almost as if those animals can just stroll out whenever they like!

Summary

Dreamworks’ quest to find a non-‘Shrek’ vehicle capable of matching Pixar continues – but ‘Madagascar’ makes for a nice distraction in the meantime.

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