With the voices of Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen
To lemurs everywhere, my apologies. And add to that my love.
Judging strictly from nature documentaries, I thought lemurs were repulsive creatures. With their yellow goggling eyes and spindly limbs, they look like Gollum carpeted in chinchilla. But here, in the new DreamWorks computer-animated movie, they sing and dance with the joy of furry club kids, and they're ruled over by King Julien, an incomparably silly character crowned with what looks like a garnish filched from a fruit salad. Julien is vain, cunning and foolish, jolly yet sly. He's voiced in a vaguely Indian accent by Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as Ali G. Cohen elevates a lower primate to high comedy.
Madagascar has a breezy sense of adventure. It's essentially an ark, carrying zoo animals into the jungle, but it moves light as a skiff. The story kicks off with Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo, Alex the lion and Melman the giraffe (plus a small, furtive gang of penguins) caught up in a muddled attempt to escape from Manhattan's Central Park Zoo. After zookeepers decide the animals would be happier in the wild, Marty, Gloria, Alex and Melman (voiced by Chris Rock, Pinkett Smith, Stiller and Schwimmer respectively, and none of them as vividly nutty as Cohen) wind up on the African island of Madagascar. There they adjust, fitfully, to the wild.
The story takes an ugly turn when Alex starts fantasizing about Marty as a meal—it's like a Survivor challenge stacked in favor of the carnivore. And the flow of movie references and "in" jokes is distracting. (Doesn't Alex's mane look like the poster icon for Disney's Lion King musical?) Send in the lemurs. The fittest may survive. The funniest shall prevail. (PG)