For children’s humor, “Madagascar” relies mostly on slapstick – and to hear the howls of laughter around the theatre, it works.  Personally, even as a child I preferred more intelligent humor (especially character-based humor, which we see some but not enough of here), and I still do.  But alas, I seem to be very much alone in a culture that enjoys watching people trip, crash and generally make hapless fools of themselves.  And, with its box office lure, I’m sure we’re stuck with it all.  However, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something inherently sinful about laughing at other people’s misfortune, however mundane.

As for the acting, Ben Stiller has finally found his niche.  With more than a bit to remind us of his performance in the atrocious “Zoolander,” I would strongly encourage this actor to stick with animation.  He really and truly belongs in an animal role.  Chris Rock does a good job as Marty, as does Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria (although, like most female animated roles, hers is far too limited).  Schwimmer’s droopy voice is perfect for Marty; Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G) is cute as King Julien the 13th, king of the lemurs (those squirrel-looking animals native to Madagascar); and Cedric the Entertainer is certainly entertaining as Maurice, his sidekick. 

On the downside, the film is fairly slow in its pacing, with a beginning and a middle that are both way too long.  It also misses the boat when it comes to depth of characterization – especially with Marty, Alex, Melman and Gloria.  As savvy New Yorkers, why don’t the four friends use savvy street smarts to overcome their island woes?

I’m also trying very hard not to see a dig at President Bush and Vice President Cheney, even though Julien – however well-intentioned – is stupid, theatrical and egotistical, whereas Maurice is shorter but larger, and clearly the “intelligent” one who “should be” in charge.  I did enjoy the British monkeys, however, one of which is deaf.  But it is the escaping penguins who steal the show.  My favorite line, once they finally reach Antarctica (only to find themselves in a blinding snowstorm).  Pause.  “Well, this sucks.”

The message in the film?  It’s buried and weak, but “Madagascar” seems to be saying that we should be happy wherever we are in life, and that we should recognize the importance of loyalty and friendship.  In a nod to animal activists, it also points to the beastly nature of animals, and how we can only tame that nature so much (on the island, as Alex starts to get hungry, he starts to get very interested in Marty as a dinner companion).  Too bad we don’t see the same message about humans in Hollywood films.  But no, that’s right.  We’re all inherently good.  Oh, yeah.

It’s not “Shrek” or “Shrek 2,” but then again, it’s not “Shark Tale,” either – and for that, we can be thankful.  Still, however unoriginal (except for its animation) “Madagascar” may be, it’s an entertaining and age-appropriate “fish out of water” story that will please families and children alike. 

AUDIENCE:  Children, teens and adults

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  None, although one character (a hypochondriac) talks repeatedly about prescription drugs and gets overly excited when a tray of them arrive in his cage.
  • Language/Profanity:  One to two mild obscenities, with some scatological (“potty”) humor such as flatulence and references to bathroom activities.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  None, save a hippo who briefly dances to the music of “The Strippers Song.”
  • Violence:    Mostly physical comedy; a lady attacks lion with her purse and mace; penguins attack captain of boat and take him and other sailors hostage; animals fall overboard in the open sea (but soon land on the beach) and animals hunt one another (but are never killed).