Madagascar Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath

With the competing animation studios constantly trying to one up each other it's becoming quite clear who number one and number two are in the rankings. Madagascar is obviously the product of a second place studio, but even though it betters the disastrous Shark Tale of last year (slightly), it still hammers home the well-known fact that no matter how hard Dreamworks tries, their animation is doomed to forever be inferior to Pixar's. The story isn't actually half bad; it's the dull personalities, the poor in-jokes and the mature choice in film references (how many kids have seen American Beauty or Planet of the Apes?) that spoil it. Four naïve animals in the Central Park Zoo — Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) — one day find themselves exiled on the shores of Madagascar, where they're left to their own devices to survive and adapt. Along the way we're introduced to more animals: a gang of covert penguins (who also get their own bonus Christmas special that will be a treat to those who can handle their unbearable scheming), as well as an Indian-accented royal lemur (an inconsistently funny Sacha Baron Cohen) and his monkey cohort (Cedric the Entertainer, who still can't make me laugh). Again, it feels like Dreamworks has drafted top celebrities to help elevate the film, but instead what we have is wasted talent. Stiller is reduced to a fraction of his comic abilities; Schwimmer is still pigeonholing himself as a neurotic geek; and Rock and Pinkett Smith, well, their dialogue is doused in full black slang stereotypes that are so safe they make you ask: is Rock following in the footsteps of Eddie Murphy? But Madagascar is really for the kids and they'll eat up the dated animation and overall daftness, which is what's important. The special features will extend those smiles on the kiddies' faces, as there are tons. Besides the short film, A Christmas Caper starring the penguins, you can meet the wild cast members, which shows clips from the studio of the actors doing their dialogue and explaining the "complexities" of their characters. A "behind the scenes" featurette reveals that the cast of Seinfeld were the inspiration for the four main stars (blasphemy!) and an informative mini-doc on the real Madagascar will help kids and some adults get an idea of what the exotic land is really like. Plus: penguin commentary, games, tech featurette, more. (Dreamworks/Universal)