Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead

General Audiences: B+

The entire family will enjoy this “fish out of water” animated fun from DreamWorks.

Shameless rip-offs from countless movies and television shows will keep parents laughing.

Family Audiences: B

Light-years from the dark side of Star Wars Episode III is a place called the New York City Zoo. Ninety minutes of non-stop laughs from animals with an attitude. Rated PG for mild language (“this sucks” and the written word “Hell”) and some crude humor (passing gas).


What would it be like if you took a bunch of pampered, streetwise zoo animals from the Big Apple and sent them back to the jungles of Africa? That’s the premise of Madagascar, a computer- animated comedy starring the voice talents of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith.

According to producer Mireille Soria, the inspiration for Madagascar came from Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation. Soria says, “Jeffrey had this idea for years that he always wanted to develop a movie about four New Yorkers who get stranded on a deserted island.” And, that was the kernel that grew into a big screen cartoon.

Madagascar is an island off the east coast of Africa. However, the four New Yorkers are not people, but animals. Alex the Lion (Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Rock), Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Pinkett Smith) live at the zoo in Central Park. Bored with the same predictable routine day after day Marty decides to break out of the zoo and explore life outside the confines of captivity. His three friends discover he’s missing and “high-tail” it after him before the authorities catch them. Deemed too wild for a public zoo, the animals were crated and put on an African bound ship.

Unfortunately for them, they were not alone. Four penguins, who happened to escape from the zoo, take over the ship to the beat of Mission Impossible’s theme song. The takeover is so flawlessly executed, it’s clear these penguins are tough professionals. One example of their ruthlessness is when one of the penguins is unable to crack the ships guidance code. The penguin leader yells at the underling “I want results,” and then slaps the penguin hacker in the face with his flipper. (There’s a reason Madagascar was rated PG instead of G.)

In the penguins’ efforts to turn the ship abruptly around and head for Antarctica, the top side crates containing the four main stars of this film slip off into the ocean. They wash ashore Madagascar to the tune from Hawaii Five-O and begin their island adventure.

At this point in the movie, producer Mireille and her team created a cinematic medley using snippets of dozens of familiar film and television scenes. The outcome is great comic effect, as it imitates in animation satires such as Loaded Weapon I and the Naked Gun series.

Picture Alex (lion) and Marty (zebra) running toward each other in slow motion to the theme song from the Chariots of Fire; or, a room full of lemurs, ecstatic over the promise of protection from the “giant freaks” (lion, zebra, hippo, et. al.) from New York. At first the lemurs worship the “New York Giants,” but suddenly their attention turns to a lemur holding up a cookbook labeled To Serve Lemurs. The lemur holding up the cookbook declares hysterically “IT’S A COOK BOOK!” The exclamation parodies the Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man, in which earthlings discover “friendly” aliens who intend to raise them like cattle and eat them.

Mining old films and television shows for laughs is clearly for the benefit of adults – and it works. For the kids, there’s plenty of slapstick and outrageous visuals. My 9-year-old son loved it when the zebra set up a bar on the beach and served saltwater martinis. And, the lemur king’s hip-hop song and dance routine is loud, infectious and extremely funny. I’d be happy to watch a sequel of this film with just the lemur king and the penguins. I can hear the cry of millions of children across America after they see this film: “bring back the penguins!!”