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Starring Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith with Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer and Andy Richter
Screenplay by Mark Burton & Billy Frolick and Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath

IN SHORT: Too cute to live. [Rated PG for mild language, crude humor and some thematic elements. 86 minutes]

We gotta be honest, folks. Madagascar is the first animated movie out of the Dreamworks studio to let us down. That's not to say we weren't entertained by it, because we were. In the past, though, their 'toons have all managed to be both hysterically funny while offering material that works equally well for adults and kidlets, individually and as a group. Madagascar is all for the kidlets, the smaller the better. That means it's a fine flick for families with single digit and preteens in tow but not for us adult 'toonheads who travel sans little ones.

Madagascar is the story of a quartet of born and raised New Yorkers, all residents of a prime piece of real estate in the zoo in the middle of world famous Central Park. They are: Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) who revels in his celebrity, an incredibly insecure Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the hypochondriac Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and the smartest of the bunch, Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). They are all, in their own ways, rather dim but they are all big hearted. Marty is the focus of the story, for the New York life has worn him down to the point where he wishes to return to life in The Wild. It's more than a perennial dream. It's his wish when, at the film's start, he celebrates his birthday and is told to set loose his heart's desire when he blows out the candle on the cake.

The Wild is "a place somewhere up North, like Connecticut." Marty sneaks away in the middle of the night, determined to hop a subway to Grand Central and then grab a train to freedom. When his compatriots wake to find him missing, they head for the underground to pursue their friend. If they get back before dawn, all will be well. Skipping a whole bunch of steps, our Heroes find themselves crated up and shipped to a wildlife preserve in Kenya. How they wind up in Madagascar is another plot detail we'll leave out, though it does involve a quartet of penguins (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller and Chris Knights), determined to return to their dreamed of home in Antarctica, and a pair of monkeys also deported from the good life in the zoo.

So this fantastic four -- hey, a pack of talking animals is pretty fantastic in our book <g>-- Madagascar is ruled by a pack of lemurs who make our heroes look like members of that elite club for IQ geniuses. When our heroes scare off a pack of coyote like creatures called Foosa, they are proclaimed heroes. This does not sit well with King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) who doesn't like competition. As we wrote, he's too dim to do much about it and neither is his #1 aide Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer). To ramp up the cute factor, add baby lemur Mort (Andy Richter) to the story. Mort, being too cute to live, is left out as food for the Foosa by the rest of his tribe. It's much cuter than it sounds.

Madagascar is not a painful sit. The jokes come fast and furious, though there are only two gut busters in the bunch. That being the case, we have a long standing policy of not putting dollar ratings on family films. Simply, it doesn't matter. The little kids will be delighted by Madagascar. The parents will become heroes for not making those single digits wait for the videotape.

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