Lions and hippos and zebras-no thanks!


DreamWorks Animation SKG

Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath

Written by Mark Burton and Billy Frolick

Starring the voices of: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett Smith

Rated PG/80 minutes

Two-and-a-half out of four stars

When it comes to animation, Pixar is the undisputed king of the jungle.

The company makes great-looking, funny movies built on a solid foundation of good storytelling and memorable characters. Other studios, such as FOX and DreamWorks, which produced the new film, “Madagascar,” prance and preen and show us their teeth, but never amount to anything more than vapid sheep in wolves’ clothing.

There’s a reason why Pixar pounces on those posers. DreamWorks, for one, sells its animated movies on star-power, not substance-the complete opposite of story-conscious Pixar.

“Madagascar” is typical of this type of mistake-the story plays obvious second banana to the personalities of its stars.

Of course, there is an attempt at a story here-Marty the Zebra (voiced by Chris Rock) hates life at the zoo and yearns for The Wild. After a botched zoo-break, Marty, his buddy Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller, in all his tantrum-prone glory) and a few other friends (including Gloria the Hippo, voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith, and Melman the Giraffe, voiced by David Schwimmer) get shipped back to the jungle.

Turns out, these “civilized” animals don’t know Jack Hannah when it comes to surviving in the real wild. Instead of employing his fearsome pedigree by hunting for prey, Alex’s beastly instincts lead him to abandon his friends, lest they end up as tonight’s top sirloin.

“Madagascar” has a madcap, cartoony style that is sometimes pretty funny. A squad of scheming penguins gets the biggest laughs by far-definitely the best of their breed since Wallace and Grommit donned “The Wrong Trousers.”

The film’s animation is a little odd-it’s more angular and exaggerated than the naturalistic look of Pixar films, but it grows on you. Anyone familiar with the wonderful “Grim Fandango” or “Escape from Monkey Island” PC games might draw stylistic parallels.

Despite its modest charms, “Madagascar” leans too much on its stars and their shtick to distract from a story that wobbles like a hunger-sick wildebeest. Schwimmer is Schwimmer, Rock is Rock, and they all dance for us in colorful animal suits. Aw!

The kids will like it, but the older-than-18 crowd can do better elsewhere.

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