Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett-Smith
Directed by Eric Darnell, Conrad Vernon
Less like Shrek, meaning hilarious and heartfelt, and more like Shark Tale, meaning manic and exhausting, Madagascar will keep kids distracted without transporting them to wonderland. Unlike recent age-crossing animated goodies (The Incredibles, Spirited Away), Madagascar is juvenile and deeply generic. The plot? Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) is living large on steak and applause at New York's Central Park Zoo. The same goes for Gloria the hippo (street-sassed by Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer, annoyingly whiny). The only complaints come from Marty the zebra (Chris Rock, whose potty mouth hasn't been this zippered since the Oscars). Marty's dreams of the wild prompt an escape for the pampered city critters, along with some rogue penguins. Tom McGrath, who co-directed the movie with Eric Darnell, does the voice of Skipper, the head penguin, and his droll wickedness is delicious. It's when the animals hit tropical Madagascar, ruled by King Julien XIII — a lemur hilariously voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G to you) — that the trouble ts. The king enlists the "New York giants" to scare off the predatory Foosa. But Alex, his own lion instincts aroused, digs his teeth into Marty's zebra butt. He'll take his steak where he can get it. After offering this PG lesson about the food chain — is a friend still a friend if you want to eat him? — the movie sadly runs aground on old gags that no amount of eye-popping color and frenzied action can spin into gold.