In Madagascar, the latest animated film by DreamWorks, four "wildly" unlikely friends-a zebra, a lion, a hippo and a giraffe-escape the Bronx Zoo in pursuit of some R&R in rural Connecticut. After causing a predictable stir in Grand Central Station and being beaten roundly by an old lady with an umbrella, the animals are shot with tranquilizer darts, packed into crates and shipped back toward the continent from whence their forebears came, destined for a wildlife preserve in Kenya. When a group of stealth penguins with dreams of cold sushi commandeers the ship, though, the four tumble overboard and wash up on a beach in Madagascar, where the zebra, with energy to burn, discovers jungle house beats and the lion discovers that his pals look an awful lot like steaks.
This is not a fun flick; it's a big snooze. What resembles a well-planned plot in synopsis feels much more like a meandering exercise in the theater. Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer, or, the zebra, lion, hippo and giraffe, respectively, are all talented vocal actors. But, perhaps with this casting in mind, the writers made the film one long (and by that I mean tedious) comedy routine. The substance of the thing rests exclusively in its dialogue, much of which is geared toward an older audience. Lines like "What's a simple bite on the buttocks among friends?" made the guy sitting a few seats down from me whoop with laughter. ("Woo-hoo- hoo!") Heck, I even smiled at that one. By and large, though, the adult humor felt flat and cheap.
What's in it for kids? None of these creatures, with the possible exception of a teeny-tiny lemur, are innocent. Dumb, maybe, but not innocent. Thus, there's no one for children to identify with, and I can't help but imagine they're left out of what's going on-a shame, since the movie's marketed for them. Sure, young tots may laugh at the hypochondriac giraffe or the flipper high-fives of the penguins, but they're not really invited to take part in the rest.
Has the film industry moved so far toward appeasing today's parents-so often either cynical or impatient with the learning process, or both-that they've forgotten the importance to children of discovery, emotion, challenge and resolution? There's no particular beauty to the animation itself, certainly not enough to redeem the story. My memory may be flawed, but I'm pretty sure that early Disney films did all this better. One thing's for certain: during Madagascar, my inner child was bored to death.
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