Ben Stiller as Alex the Lion (voice)
Chris Rock as Marty the Zebra (voice)
David Schwimmer as Melman the Giraffe (voice)
Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria the Hippo (voice)
Sacha Baron Cohen as Julian (voice)
Cedric the Entertainer as Maurice (voice)
Christopher Knights as Private
Andy Richter as Mort (voice)

Madagascar features a great cast, amusing characters, and fun for the whole family. The trailers spoil some of the best jokes, but it’s still entertaining.

Marty the Zebra has lived in the New York’s Central Park Zoo his entire life, but he desperately wants to see what else is out in the world. Even though his friends Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, and Melman the Giraffe are very happy with their cushy zoo lifestyles, he’s fascinated by the prospect of exploring the wild. So when a group of penguins make an escape from the zoo to visit Antartica, Marty makes his escape as well. Unfortunately, his friends follow him and they are all caught together.

Seeing the escape as a plea to return to the wild, New York ships the zoo animals back to Africa. Along the way there’s an accident and Alex, Gloria, and Melman are marooned on the island of Madagascar. There they must learn to survive and interact with the strange local wildlife. But what will happen between Alex and Marty when hunger and his natural lion instincts kick in?

Madagascar is rated PG for mild language, crude humor and some thematic elements.

What Worked:
I took my entire family to the screening of Madagascar and we enjoyed it quite a bit. I took a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and a 5 month old and they were all entranced by it. (The baby loved all the colors and animals, but he still quietly sat through the whole thing.) There was humor for both adults and children and it all ended up working really well. It was one of those rare, pleasant family outings without being embarrassed by the kids.

One of the most notable things about Madagascar is the animation. It doesn’t really break any new technical ground (though it does feature good looking fire and characters with a lot of hair). What it lacks in technical achievement it more than makes up for in style. All of the characters are highly stylized and it works great. While many CG films strive for photorealism, the stylized look proves to be more than adequate (like it was in The Incredibles). It makes the animation feel more like traditional 2-D cartoons than photo real features like Shrek or Monsters Inc.

The cast for Madagascar is great. I’m no fan of Chris Rock, but I thought he was good as Marty the Zebra. Ben Stiller is also fun as Alex the Lion. The two end up making a pretty good team on the screen together. I never realized it before, but David Schwimmer has a great cartoon voice as Melman the Giraffe. The neurotic / hypochondriac kind of characters suit him well. Jada Pinkett Smith doesn’t stand out much as Gloria the Hippo, but she’s still a likable character. The real stand-outs end up being the secondary characters. Sacha Baron Cohen is absolutely hilarious as Julian, the lemur king from Madagascar. I never really liked Cohen much in his role as Ali-G, but he’s pretty funny (and more family friendly) here. Also entertaining are some monkeys in the zoo and some psychotic penguins that lead the escape. The penguins pretty much steal every single scene they’re in. (Their reaction upon finally arriving in Antartica is quite funny.)

Music ends up being a real big part of the laughs in the movie. All the scenes pick some sort of established song to go with what’s happening on the screen. Whether it’s Chariots of Fire during a beach scene or the National Geographic theme during a chase, the music ends up being a big part of the jokes in Madagascar. There’s a lot of great physical humor as well. Melman has some great misadventures in the New York subway station, Alex gets beaten up quite a bit when a spider lands on him, and the penguins smack around the boat captain a lot. Those types of gags got great laughs from both children and adults.

What Didn’t Work:
I had no problem with 99% of this movie, but a couple of the jokes irked me as a parent. In one scene, Alex spells out HELP on the beach with trees. The P ends up falling apart and it spells out HELL. My kindergarten daughter then yelled out, “HELL!!” when she saw it in order to show us all she could read. Admittedly it’s not the f-bomb and they used it in context, but you generally don’t want your cute little daughter going around and yelling out, “Hell!!!” in front of the relatives and grandparents. There were a couple of other minor things like that in the movie.

My only other gripe is that the trailers showed almost all of the first hour of Madagascar. There were very few good jokes that weren’t spoiled from seeing the commercials, teasers, etc. I think if I had known less going in I would have enjoyed it a lot more. The end result is only a minor chuckle at the old material while the newer, more amusing bits were fewer and far between.

The Bottom Line:
Madagascar ended up being a fun family movie that both kids and adults could enjoy. While it wasn’t as good as Shrek 2, it was still very entertaining.