The animals of New York Zoo have a good life. They get food on demand and the public adore them, but Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) still pines for the wild. After a botched escape attempt lands him and his friends on a remote beach, the animals have to learn to fend for themselves. Striking a perfect balance between wit, slapstick and self-awareness, Madagascar is as fluffy as a meringue and twice as tasty.
From the moment that Marty bounds delightedly across the screen to the ironic strains of Born Free, it's clear that we're dealing with DreamWorks the minds that brought us Shrek. While the brilliant boffins of Pixar concern themselves with timeless stories, Spielberg's gang has always been about the jokes. The noisy, zeitgeisty attitude of DreamWorks' toons can be disastrous - witness the bloated bling of Shark Tale - but Madagascar hits the mark with all four hooves.
"PLEASURABLY DEVOID OF SENTIMENT"
Ben Stiller is on typically neurotic form as Alex, a friendly lion whose taste for steak sets him apart from his herbivorous pals, and there's good work from David Schwimmer as a hypochondriac giraffe. But it's the background detail that makes Madagascar roar, from the party-mad lemur tribe led by Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G), to a quartet of psychotic penguins. It's also a pleasure to see a cartoon so determinedly devoid of sentiment, a stance confirmed by the hilarious demise of an angelic little duckling. Highly recommended for kids and adults.