Madagascar is the new computer-animated film from DreamWorks Animation, so it falls in the tradition of Shrek and Shark Tale. Madagascar (rated PG for mild language, crude humor, and some thematic elements) is less manic and not as interested in pushing the boundaries of taste and appropriateness than either of those films-but it certainly doesn't soar to any new heights. The movie falls into the category of the "mostly harmless"-diverting entertainment for kids that is unlikely to inspire them or infuriate their parents.
Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer provide the voices for four Manhattan zoo animals-a lion, a zebra, a hippo, and a giraffe, respectively-who end up far from their home in the wilds of Madagascar. While most of the zoo animals enjoy their cushy life in captivity, Marty the Zebra is experiencing a mid-life crisis (at age 10). As he jogs on a treadmill staring at a jungle mural, Marty dreams of the "real" wild.
Learning that there are open spaces as close as a neighboring state, Marty takes off for Connecticut one night. His friends take off after him, but their botched "intervention" lands the entire zoo on an ocean freighter to an African wildlife preserve. Along the way, the boat is commandeered by a trio of enterprising penguins. A sharp turn (toward, naturally, Antarctica) lands the movie's heroes bobbing in the open ocean, soon to be washed up on the shores of Madagascar, completely unequipped to deal with life outside a cage.
Mildly funny, mostly clean humor is soiled by the occasional oblique reference to profanity, a device that seems to be becoming, frustratingly, more common in kids' entertainment. (Example: One frightened character exclaims, "Sugar Honey Iced Tea!")
Placing zoo animals in the real wilds of the jungle allows the movie to create some interesting dynamics between "civilized" animals that eat prepared foods and their more ferocious natural counterparts that hunt and kill for sustenance. The movie doesn't do much with this, though-Alex the Lion ends up with fish as a substitute for steak, which settles the question of eating his own friends, but raises an unanswered conundrum: What about Nemo?