Whilst Pixar may hit it out of the park every time, other studios attempts at CG-animated movies have proven a far rockier affair. Dreamworks in particular has its ups and downs with last year’s releases of two films of completely different quality – the deftly enjoyable “Shrek 2” and the utterly awful “Shark Tale”. This year the CG stakes kick off with “Madagascar”, an overall much better improvement on ‘Shark’ but a film that’s too kiddie-oriented to keep the parents coming back like they have for the likes of the vastly superior Shrek, Nemo and Incredibles films.
Much of that disappointment lies in the comedy which ultimately falls flat at times, despite subplots that generate a few good belly laughs ranging from Sacha Baron Cohen’s king lemur and two all too underused monkeys, to the film’s best characters – a group of almost mafioso penguins determined to find Antarctica. With its aim firmly set on the sights of the toddlers, many of the gags are of the farting and ass-biting kind with the strong comedic talents of Stiller and in particular Rock reduced to clean but base humour. Smith gets a few good lines, but the four key characters are ultimately outshone by their smaller counterparts.
The script also has trouble with the character development. The New York scenes are cute and fun and the early jungle stuff is interesting, but the latter half of the film struggles to explore some darker territory about the lion’s base instincts and yet fails to really do much in terms of exploring animal nature. At times there’s the odd moment for adults, such as numerous cute movie references to the likes of “American Beauty”, “Cast Away” and even a famous “Twilight Zone” episode. However they all feel like throwaway gags to fill in time – at 86 minutes there’s a surprising amount of padding in here despite the cute animation and fun scenes. A safe film for the young-uns who might find the Pixar movies a little too old for their taste.