No movie franchise can do without a video-game adaptation—though an experiment in non-franchises like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind would be welcome—but some are more naturally suited to the form than others. Saddled with four zoo animals and radioactive levels of sass, the creators of the Madagascar game have been dealt a marginal hand, but they play it well, mainly by scrapping the movie's particulars and making a bright, mildly inventive platformer for the thumb-sucking set. The levels aren't very distinctive; they play more like a collection of carnival-style mini-games than a unified adventure with escalating perils. But what the game lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in variety. Where one challenge seems insultingly easy or redundant (and unfortunately, there are plenty of those), something better waits just a few annoying minutes ahead.
Rather than get hamstrung by a more faithful adaptation, Madagascar only follows the bare outlines of the movie's plot: When Marty the zebra escapes from Manhattan's Central Park Zoo, his friends Alex the lion, Gloria the hippo, and Melman the giraffe tail him all the way to the wilds of Madagascar, where Alex's instincts briefly turn him into a ravenous predator. Switching between the four characters, which each have different strengths (Alex can double-jump, Gloria stampedes when she eats jalapeños, Melman can use his legs like helicopter blades), you embark on various junior-skill adventures, like collecting fruit for a jungle banquet or protecting lemurs from their foosa adversaries. The best missions are something like games you'd pay a dollar to play at a fair: Hurling coconuts or acorns at moving targets, a game of whack-a-mole in a carrot field, or bouncing from one mushroom to another as if on a moonwalk trampoline. The less-fun missions, by contrast, seem designed for the hopelessly uncoordinated or mentally deficient.
Beyond the gameplay: Movie-to-game adaptations mean lots of cut-scenes, but without the roomful of jokesmiths who penned the dialogue for the animated hit, the banter sounds like something from a bad Saturday-morning cartoon. None of the big-name actors participated in the game, but voice actor Phil LaMarr does such an uncanny Chris Rock impersonation that it's almost as if Rock himself is selling out.
Worth playing for: As in all platform games, collecting coins or other objects pays off in Madagascar, not so much for the oversized accessories for each character, but for the well-designed Tiki mini-golf course, which is a melted ice-cream cone away from duplicating the real putt-putt experience.
Frustrations sets in when: When a game is this kid-friendly, reverse frustration often sets in when the challenges are too easy. Anything involving the pepper-huffing hippo, whose sole talent is running too fast for the controller to manage, generally isn't worth anyone's time.
Final judgment: Countless platformers are deeper, more challenging, and more inventive than Madagascar, but tykes looking to extend their big-screen experience couldn't ask for anything better.