Four animal friends perform for visitors daily at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan: Alex the Lion (voices of Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Christ Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). Alex turns ten years old, which is mid-life for this lion, and he starts getting metaphysical about the meaning of his life in captivity. Alex longs for the wild. Alex discovers that four penguins are trying to dig their way out of the zoo to return to the Antarctic and he escapes with them.


Marty, Melman, Gloria think Alex is only going to Connecticut by train rather than with the penguins, and indeed they find him at Grand Central Station. There New York’s finest, a tough old lady and a cowardly animal control person subdue and capture the animals. People protest their captivity, and soon all the animals are crated and shipped via an uncomfortable 21st century version of Noah’s Arc to their countries of origin (shipping doesn’t seem to have improved over the centuries.)


Events transpire that the four African animals fall off the ship, and the penguins take over and head south for their cold climate. Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria are washed ashore on the large island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and have to deal with the local animal population, headed by the lemurs; the Central Park animals keep seeking out people who can straighten things out, but the only human available is the skeleton of a deceased pilot. So much for humans.


Madagascar, produced by Dreamworks, is a beautifully rendered top-of-the-line animated film for the pre-K through primary grade set. The little kids in the audience (2-3 per every adult from what I could see) laughed with glee at the antics of the animal characters. The adults, me included, only chuckled here and there when we caught one of the New York references – which, truth be told, were many but not all that funny.


Only two writers are listed at but I think there were four named on the credits. Too many writers usually spoil the broth and, whether there were two or four for this film, I think they did spoil what could have been a classic.


There is no real story, and whenever the “action” and dialogue got close to establishing links between humans and the animal kingdom (like animal rights perhaps, or taking animals from their natural habitat and trying to return them, or as anthropomorphic tales traditionally do, create analogies with human events and behavior), the “narrative” went somewhere else. The writing tried to be clever and engage adult viewers by approximating swear words, for example. I did think that Sugar Honey Ice Tea was a pretty good attempt, as was “hoover Dam” but ha ha and then what?


The two main themes of Madagascar were for me friendship among humans by analogy and kindness to animals. And if children can come to a better understanding of these ideas through the film, then what more could we want? 


It’s difficult for an adult to judge films for the very young because the pace is slow and the filmmakers know what techniques work to get their attention, engage their imaginations and entertain them. The parents and caregivers are a bonus captive audience. But if the little ones like it, go for it.


Sometimes a movie is just a movie.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The

Four 16-year old girls, Tibby (Amber Tamlyn, Joan of Arcadia) , Lena (Alexis Bledel, The Gilmore Girls), Carmen (America Ferrera, Real Women Have Curves) and Bridget (Blake Lively), have been friends from birth – or rather before birth when their mothers all took the same workout class. As they get ready to go their separate ways for the summer, they happen into a used clothing store. Carmen sees a pair of old jeans folded on a table, and tells the self-conscious Lena to try them on. Eventually all the girls try them on and they fit each one – even the curvy Carmen.


That evening they have a little ritual and decide that each of them will keep the magical jeans for a week then send them on to the next girl as a way for them to stay connected over the summer months. They make-up ten rules about the jeans, including not washing them.


Lena, an artist, goes to a beautiful Greek island to stay with her grandparents. There she meets Kostas (Michael Rady) while wearing the special jeans and discovers that there is a feud going on between the two families. Lena is very shy.


Bridget, a star soccer player, goes to Baja California for soccer camp. Her mother has just died, and her father does not really know what to do with her. She pursues the college-age coach, Eric, (Mike Vogel), which is against the rules. Bridget is lost and lonely.


Carmen, who is smart, cheerful, and affectionate, heads to South Carolina to spend the summer with her dad (Bradley Whitford) who is divorced from her mother (Rachel Ticotin). She discovers immediately that he is going to remarry a woman (Nancy Travis) with two teenaged children. Carmen has anger issues with her father that come to a head as the wedding draws near.


Only Tibby stays home to work at a local superstore. She is a wanna be filmmaker and her first documentary is going to be about losers. On the first day she comes across 12-year old Bailey (Jenna Boyd) who has passed out in an aisle. When she gets out of the hospital, Bailey shows up at Tibby’s house with the jeans because she says they were delivered to her house by mistake. Bailey becomes Tibby’s self-appointed assistant. As Bailey points out with insight beyond her years, Tibby is probably the biggest loser of all the people she is interviewing.


This authentically lovely film, written by Delia Ephron (You’ve Got Mail) and Elizabeth Chandler (What a Girl Wants) and based on the novel of the same title by Ann Brashares, is engaging from the very first moment. The editing style cuts back and forth between the four girls as it follows the traveling pants across the world throughout the summer. The sequences are linear and just right, not too long or too brief, nor convoluted. I got the story and stayed with it because I cared what happened to this society of girls who would grow to be women over the summer. Director Ken Kwapis comes from teen TV so he knows what he is about.


The film is about friendship, faith (watch the visual motifs too), family, coming of age, life, death, the meaning of life, loss and grief, first love, mistakes and learning from them, reconciliation and so much more. I cannot say more without giving away what makes this film special and worth your time and effort to go and see it. The humor and pathos are gentle and real.


The young women all play their parts well and evenly. I liked the interaction between Amber Tamblyn and Jenna Boyd very much.


What do the pants symbolize and what is its funtion?I think the pants work as a sign of faith and grace,to be put on and worn (not unlike the new garment at baptism) as a sign of belief and new life; to be grace that can be accepted, shared, ignored or even rejected. The pants are also a sign of the process of maturing rather than fully acquired maturity itself (are we ever really completely there? As one of my sisters says, life is school; we are always learning.) The summer journeys the girls take are times of discovery, unity and community. Going back to the grace metaphor, wherever the girls are, the pants find them.


Who is The Sisterhood for? Girls and their moms, sure, but parents, women of all ages, and even nuns. Should guys see this movie? We have had male coming-of-age movies presented as the universal standard of all human experience for 100 years +. So, yes, guys ought to see The Sisterhood because it would give them insight and a new perspective.


If you stay through the credits you’ll note that Denise Di Novi is one of the producers of the film. Check out her resume’ at and take note of the type of film and television projects she has been a part of. They might not all have been critically acclaimed but I like most of them because of Di Novi’s consistent ability to be involved in projects that tell stories that matter.


If anyone calls this a “chick flick”, give them a penance. Sisterhood is a fine example of what a good movie madeby (many) women can say about the lives, struggles, hopes, and loves of women as an example of the universal human experience.


This film also takes a chance by showing us different cultures, personalities, and female body shapes. Sisterhood is the antithesis of the Charlie’s Angels franchise because it is about the wholeness of young women, not just looks and special effects. I loved The Sisterhood.


PS This film artfully suggests many difficult issues rather than parade them “in your face” – and if there was any language, I don’t remember. Goodness and grace stays with you… The girls live in Maryland but you only find that out “by the way”.


See it.