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'Madagascar' is a Perfectly Pleasant Destination


So "Madagascar" is important to DreamWorks for business, but is it actually a good movie? Here's Bob Mondello with an answer.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

It's early morning at the Central Park Zoo. The animals are just waking up, and the star attraction, Alex the Lion, is much more excited about the arrival of a human audience than, say, Marty the Zebra is.

(Soundbite of "Madagascar")

Mr. BEN STILLER: (As Alex the Lion) Here comes people, Marty! Oh, I love the people! It's fun. It's people fun time! Whoo! Let's go, Gloria! Up and at 'em!

MONDELLO: That would be Gloria the Hippo.

(Soundbite of "Madagascar")

Ms. JADA PINKETT SMITH: (As Gloria the Hippo) Hey, what's dancin'?

Mr. STILLER: (As Alex the Lion) It's Friday, field trip day!

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: (As Gloria the Hippo) Yes, it's field trip day. Let's get up and go in 10 more minutes.

Mr. STILLER: (As Alex the Lion) Come on, Melman, Melman, Melman!

MONDELLO: Melman the Giraffe, a bit of a hypochondriac.

(Soundbite of "Madagascar")

Mr. STILLER: (As Alex the Lion) Rise and shine. It's another fabulous morning in the Big Apple. Let's go.

Mr. DAVID SCHWIMMER: (As Melman the Giraffe) Not for me. I'm calling in sick.

MONDELLO: Having lived as entertainers in the sheltering confines of the zoo all their lives, the creatures don't think much about the outside world. They get free room and board, health care. What's not to like? But Marty's zebra eyes are opened to other possibilities one day when a penguin pops up unexpectedly in his cage. The penguins, it seems, have been plotting an escape.

(Soundbite of "Madagascar")

Unidentified Man #1: You, quadruped, sprechen ze English?

Mr. CHRIS ROCK: (As Marty the Zebra) I sprechen.

Unidentified Man #1: What continent is this?

Mr. ROCK: (As Marty the Zebra) Manhattan.

Unidentified Man #1: Hoover Dam, still in New York. Abort. Dive! Dive! Dive!

Mr. ROCK: (As Marty the Zebra) Hey, hey, you in the tux! Wait a minute! What are you guys doing?

Unidentified Man #1: Can you keep a secret, my monochromatic friend? Do you ever see any penguins running free around New York City? Of course not. We don't belong here. It's just not natural. This is all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy. We're going to the wide-open spaces of Antarctica, to the wild.

Mr. ROCK: (As Marty the Zebra) To the wild? You could actually go there?

MONDELLO: Marty escapes, and when his buddies zip out to find him, they cause a series of mild panics at Big Apple landmarks before the authorities round them all up and pack them off to an African wildlife preserve where they encounter some squirrel-like lemurs and chase away the predators who've been eating them.

(Soundbite of "Madagascar")

Unidentified Man #2: The Foosa. They're always annoying us by trespassing, interrupting our parties and ripping our limbs off.

Mr. STILLER: (As Alex the Lion) Yes, sounds good. Look, we're just trying to find out where the people are, so if you could...

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, my! What big teeth you have. Man!

MONDELLO: Now this brings up an interesting issue. The central joke so far has been that our heroes, however wild their heritage may be, are New York celebrities at heart with urban skills that will require some adapting to work in the wild. But when the king of the beasts doesn't get his usual steak for a couple of days and starts to get in touch with his inner carnivore, the film is entering different territory. Alex is still Marty's buddy, but it's a lion-eat-zebra world, right? A fact that requires finessing if digital animation is making things so real you can see every hair in Alex's mane.

Happily, "Madagascar's" animators also stretch necks crazily, the way old Warner Bros. cartoons did, and turn lemurs into steaks and fish into sushi, so the real-world threat sort of evaporates. The plot does, too, but never mind. This may not be a film for the ages, but if what you're looking for is a field trip for the family, "Madagascar" is a perfectly pleasant destination. I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of "Madagascar")

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) I like to...

Unidentified People: (In unison) Move it!

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) I like to move it, move it. I like to move it, move it. I like to move it, move it. You like to...

Unidentified People: (In unison) Move it!

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) I like to move it, move it.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.