Although less frenetic and cluttered than that other recent digital animation, Shark Tale, DreamWorks' Madagascar is fraught with its own problems, including an over-reliance on predictable, kid-friendly slapstick, and a story that takes forever to get going and then slides into some odd and unsatisfying areas. There are possibilities for Swiftian satire when the large, city-bred mammals wash ashore on the titular island and find themselves caught up in a war between two pint-sized species, but the movie drops the ball and simply focuses on the wacky antics of the urban animals as they attempt to adjust to a lack of civilization.
The last act is inexplicably strange, as the once-docile lion gets in touch with his carnivore instincts and begins thinking about his former friends as dinner - an eat-or-be-eaten syndrome that may be a tad difficult to explain to wee viewers raised on Disney's Circle of Life. The animation looks great, though (in a more exaggerated, stylized way than we're used to), several of the characters are memorable (the lemur king and a quartet of penguins are particular crowd-pleasers), and, although there isn't all that much adult-oriented pop-culture reference and humor here, when it comes it's right on target. The gag about over-educated monkeys flinging pooh at Tom Wolfe is a movie moment for the ages. Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Madagascar (PG) opens May 27 at local theaters.