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Review: Enjoyable trip to 'Madagascar'

Funny animated film a treat for kids, good for parents

By Paul Clinton

Alex the Lion, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo get around New York in the time-honored way -- by subway.
Jada Pinkett Smith
Chris Rock
Ben Stiller

(CNN) -- Leave it to four zoo animals to do justice to one of the most formulaic of movie genres, the fish-out-of-water story -- and do it with an energy that would make Warner Bros. animators like Tex Avery proud.

"Madagascar," which concerns four not-so-wild beasts who end up on the island of the title, has a zesty, stylized computer animation that owes much to the manic Warner Bros. work spearheaded by Avery, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones. It's filled with slapstick and silliness, and should be fine entertainment for kids -- while keeping their parents amused.

The film concerns preening, crowd-loving Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), adventurous Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), sensible Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and hypochondriac Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), who live the easy life in New York's Central Park Zoo. As far as they're concerned, food magically appears pre-packaged three times a day, the only jungle they know is the urban jungle and they all consider themselves dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers.

Then four hilarious, conniving penguins (voiced by various members of the production staff, including the film's co-director, Tom McGrath) set the story in motion by plotting an escape from the zoo in hopes of returning to their natural habitat -- Antarctica.

Their wanderlust inspires Marty -- who is having a mid-life crisis -- to explore the world. He doesn't want to go to Antarctica, though; he wants to see Connecticut. (He can thank Melman for the tip.)

His friends react to his escape with horror and set off to bring him back to his senses -- and to their tranquil existence at the zoo.

After a series of misadventures on the streets of New York this mismatched band of brothers is captured in Grand Central Terminal, where they've caught up with Marty. But instead of being returned to Central Park, the group is improbably shipped off to Africa to be returned to the wild.

Dinner, not dinner

It only gets worse for the hapless four.

Some conniving penguins -- funny enough to deserve their own movie -- launch the four heroes on their adventure.

They're swept overboard at sea and wash ashore on Madagascar, off Africa's east coast. There they encounter a large tribe of lemurs -- cuddly animals found only on this particular island -- and their mortal enemies, the predatory fossas, strange beasts that have been described as looking like a cross between a dog and a cat.

Now the highly pampered and totally helpless animals begin to realize that it really is a jungle out there. In this world it's the survival of the fittest, and everything is divided into two categories -- dinner or not dinner.

Hardest hit by this harsh reality is Alex the Lion, since red meat -- and plenty of it -- is his main dietary requirement. Suddenly, his best friend Marty the Zebra begins looking like a big juicy steak.

Fortunately, this isn't a National Geographic nature documentary. The group overcomes their problems, and the film's point -- that friendship, if strong enough, can overcome any obstacle -- comes across.

Nice work

"Madagascar" is a delight. Co-writers and -directors McGrath and Eric Darnell, along with their entire team, have done a terrific job with their sweet and whimsical story.

As with DreamWorks' smash hits "Shrek" and "Shrek 2," there are plenty of sight gags and humor aimed at the younger set, while also providing enough references to pop culture to keep grown-ups entertained. Be advised, however, the target audience for this movie is much younger than the "Shrek" films.

And those penguins? They deserve their own film. I hope they get one, and we can all look forward to "Antarctica."

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