Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) dreams of living the wild life outside the walls of New York Zoo. When he decides to hop it, friends Alex the Lion (Stiller), Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) reluctantly leave home to find him. A tube journey and a packing crate later, the escapees find themselves shipped off on a boat for naughty animals. When four sea-going soldier penguins (fellow escapologists) flip-flop to the rescue, it all goes wrong. Or right. The city-dwellers are shipwrecked on Madagascar. They're about to take a walk on the wild side - whether they like it or not.
As you'd expect from the creators of Shrek, there are some great characters, snappy lines and enough wacky scenes to keep kids of all ages amused. Funnily enough, it's the scenes in the City that seem to work best. Maybe they should have just set it in the zoo...but then they'd have missed out on Ali G's king of the party-raving lemurs. And who needs David Attenborough when Madagascar itself is pretty good at showing kids the ugly side of nature – the Lion wants his steak, little cheepies get chomped by crocs. It's even pretty good at slipping in film buff references for the parents. You've got to hand it to a film for kids that bothers to set up a joke so it can use a punchline from the finale of Charlton Heston's Planet of the Apes. Or one that nicks a sight-gag from Castaway or a dream sequence from American Beauty.
With two directors and four writers, it's perhaps no surprise that this film is uneven. It's also not original; the position of annoying talking animal was better filled in Shrek; here the role is shared by a fast-talking zebra and a hypochondriac giraffe. But it's a formula, and it works. Throw in some curious characters that wouldn't be out of place in a Wallace & Gromit cartoon and you've got a pretty good recipe for success. And no doubt it'll be back. Madagascar isn't a classic, or memorable. But it's fast and funny summer fun.