Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard his spots?
Directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath’s buddy film focuses on four denizens of New York’s Central Park Zoo. It will probably irritate animal rights activists in that most of our heroes are appalled at the idea of freedom—they miss their zoo perks too much. The last part of the film might confuse children, in that it dares to raise the issue of gene determination, something seldom taken note of in the average animal cartoon in which carnivorous creatures reside with gentler creatures.
Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) loves being the star attraction of the Zoo, eagerly awaiting the busloads of children who come and cheer his animal act. Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) loves her huge swimming pool in which she can cavort to the delight of spectators. Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) also is content to much on the greens supplied daily. Only Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) longs for the freedom of the African veldt, depicted so vividly on a large wall mural he sees each day.
Having heard from a friend that the wilderness is to be found in Connecticut, Marty sneaks out through a tunnel being dug by some rapsaclious penguins, which are plotting to escape to Antarctica. When the three friends discover that Marty is gone, they set forth to overtake and bring their misguided friend back. They catch up with him in a marvelously depicted Grand Central Station. The human travelers there, of course, are terrified by what they mistake as vicious animals. Soon an army of police is surrounding our heroes and shooting them with a dart gum tipped in knockout serum.
The four chums awake to darkness. They are in separate crates being shipped by freighter to a wildlife sanctuary in Africa. The penguins are also aboard and manage to take command of the ship. Then comes a storm, and the crates with our friends are washed overboard. Somehow by a quirk of geography known only to the animators, they have overshot Africa and have been washed up on the shore of the large island lying off the east coast of that continent. The city dudes are terrified of the place and long for the sanctity of their zoo home where their hunger was satisfied daily by the zookeepers. When the tribe of lemurs led by King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his counselor Maurice (Cederic the Entertainer) show up, both sides are scared at first of the other.
Part of the last half of the movie seems a bit padded (mainly the dispute between Marty and Alex), and the bit about Alex reverting to his savage, carnivorous nature is not dealt with as much as it could have been, were this an adult-oriented cartoon—although the point of friendship winning out over savagery is intriguing. The critics might have found this far short of Pixar films, but it is still well worth seeing.