The movie starts out with a Zebra named Marty (Chris Rock) running through the open fields of Madagascar. Everything is very colorful and happy. Suddenly, Marty snaps out of it and wakes up from his dream. We see that Marty is in the Central Park Zoo in New York City. A lion named Alex (Ben Stiller) walks up to Marty and says that today is Friday and it is the day of school field trips, so they have to be ready for attention. Alex is obsessed with two things in the world; Steak and himself. Apparently Alex is the main attraction at the Zoo. Today is Martys 10th birthday and Alex gives him a gift, which is a snow globe. Marty isn't too thrilled. He says that 10 years have gone by and he is stuck in the zoo doing the same boring thing everyday. We also meet a Hippo named Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and a Giraffe named Melman (David Schwimmer). Melman is a wreck all the time. He takes medication all of the time and always feels like he is getting sick. A bunch of zoo keepers come in and start to pamper the animals.
Buses of kids start coming in and Alex gets excited. Kids take pictures of Alex and everything is crazy. People take pictures of Marty as he poses for the camera. After a while the kids leave and visit the penguins. We see a group of very clever penguins facing the crowd of people. One of the penguins whispers to the other and says "Just smile and wave boys just smile and wave". Behind the two penguins waving one pops out of the ground with a broken plastic spoon. Turns out the penguins have secretly been digging a hole to try and escape the zoo for long time. We find out these aren't your regular penguins, they act like their James Bond and have karate moves.
Cut to Marty resting in his area, glad that all the attention has faded away. The penguins come up from under the ground. The head penguin talks to Marty about how animals arent meant for the zoo. They need to be out inthe wild. Marty agrees and says hes been trying to get out for the past few years. The penguin says he and his buddies are planning an escape for tonight and they want to go to their homeland of Antarctica. The camerazooms into Marty as he gets a look on his face. The penguin slowly goes bac down into the hole and says "You didnt see anything" while waving hi hands in a hypnotic way.
That night, we see that Alex, Gloria and Melman have set up a surprise birthday party for Marty. Marty opens his gifts and sits near his cake. Gloria tells him to make a wish. Marty wishes and blows out the candles. The three ask Marty what he wished for but he refuses to tell. Eventually Marty says that he wished to go to the wild and the first step is to get out o the zoo and to the train station. Everyone laughs at him. Later on, Mart and Alex talk. Alex tells Marty to cheer up because it is much better surviving in a zoo where you get pampered by zoo keepers, then to fight for food in the wild. Alex starts to sing "New York New York" to cheer Marty up. Marty fakes like hes ok, but you know hes not.
Later on that same night, Melman notices Marty is gone and tells Alex and Gloria. They remember what Marty said before about going to the train station. We cut to Marty on the streets on New York asking a police officers horse for directions. The horse gives him directions and Marty is off to the train station. The police officer notices Marty and calls for back up. Go back to Alex, Gloria and Melman. They take a quick subway ride. All of the humans run in fear. Eventually the three meet up with Marty at the train station. An old woman notices Alex and starts to beat him up with her pocket book (Hilarious scene)
The police show up and they surround the four animals. The penguins show up too. Alex tries to talk to the police officers but they are too scared and nervous of the ferocious beast. Alex gets shot with a dart and falls asleep. Moments later Alex wakes up and sees a news crew at the his pen in the zoo, but he is shot with a dart and falls back to sleep again.
Cut to a black screen and we hear Alexs voice. A light goes on and he is inside a box. He takes a few seconds to completely freak out and then he hears Martys voice, who is in a different box next to him. Marty says he has no idea what is going on. The last thing he remembers is seeing Alex get shot with a dart. We hear Glorias voice in another box and then Melmans voice in another box. The camera zooms out and we see that they are on a ship in the middle of the ocean.
We cut to the penguins, who bust out of their boxes and make their way to the captain. They karate chop the captain and steer the boat. They decide they want to go to Antarctica. Suddenly, the penguins whip the ship completely around, causing the four boxes containing Alex, Gloria, Melman and Marty to fall off board and into the sea. The four boxes separate into the sea and the screen fades to black.
Cut to Alexs box rolling up on an island. He gets out. He freaks out for a few seconds. Then he comes across Melman washed ashore but stuck in his box. Alex tries to get him out but cant. Glorias box washes up and then she punches out her door which flings Alex into the air to land on Melmans box, thus breaking him out. Marty finally arrives on shore riding the waves on the backs of dolphins. Alex begins to run to Marty and you think its going to be a tender moment, but then Marty realizes Alex is pissed and Alex chases Marty around a bit.
They try to think things out. Melman says that they must be in San Diego so there must be humans close by. The others agree. The four go into the woods. Melman says they will look for any sign of humans. Alex has some trouble however; he is stubbing his toe, and knocking into trees. He says he isnt meant for the wild.
The group hears signing and assume it must be the humans. They come across a group of lemurs singing the song "Move it". The group is about to walk into the gathering and find out whats going on when the lemurs are attacked by the foosa which look like hyenas. The foosa are about to eat a little lemur named Mort (Andy Richter) when Alex steps in to ask whats going on, and where the humans are. Alex scares off the foosa and also scares Mort, who runs off to hide with the other lemurs.
The King lemur named Julian, (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his partner Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) send Mort out to test and see if the new animals are dangerous. When they decide they arent they introduce themselves. It is then the group finds out they are not in the zoo, but in the wild.
Later on at the beach, Alex and Marty fight. Once again Alex blames Marty for all of this. Then Marty makes a line in the sand and says he will do fine on his own. Alex gets frustrated and attempts to make some type of shelter. Seconds later, Alex says how Marty doesnt stand a chance surviving on his own. Alex then takes a quick look at sees that Marty has already made himself a drink bar with a roof. Alex makes a statue of liberty out of sticks. Melman makes a fire, but the fire just burns up the sticks and then goes out. Melman and Gloria go over to Martys side and join him at the bar.
Alex gets upset and tries to sleep, but cant because he hears Marty at the drink bar. Alex gets up and goes over to Marty to apologize. Marty accepts and invites Alex in the bar. Marty serves Alex a drink. Alex drinks it and notices that it is salt water. Marty says that you are supposed to take a sip and then spit it out.
The next morning, the four animals meet up with the lemurs. Maurice shows them an open field with a pond and tells them to enjoy themselves. Marty starts to run through the field and Alex chases him. However, Alex runs on two feet like a person. Marty tells Alex to relax and run like a real lion. The two continue to run around. Marty comes out and says that this is exactly how he pictured the wild.
They meet back with the lemurs and Alex becomes hungry for his favorite food; steak. Alex then looks at Marty and the rest of the lemurs and pictures them as steak. Alexs mouth waters and he bites Marty in the butt. Marty gets upset and we see Alex is becoming more aggressive like a real lion. Alexs claws grow and the lemurs run away. Alex chases Marty but Marty gets away. Alex realizes that he has become a beast and hides.
We cut to the penguins in Antarctica. We see them standing next to the ship with snow blowing in their faces. They yell out "Well this sucks!".
We go back to Alex, who has made his way to the predator side of the island. Marty makes a fence to keep others away from him since he feels he is dangerous.
Back on the beach the others are upset by what happened with Alex when they see the ship and flag it down. It runs right up on the beach and the penguins get off. The animals realize they can go home now. Marty sneaks off to get Alex even though the others told him not to go near him.
While Marty is trying to persuade Alex to come with him, the foosa surround Alex and chase him, he runs into Gloria and Melman on the way and the foosa surround them. The penguins show up and start kicking butt, although they are totally outnumbered by the foosa and know theyll lose. Then Alex comes into the picture looking totally insane and hungry saying that its his kill he pounces on Marty and tells him to play along. Alex chases all the foosa away and tells them this is HIS TURF and not to come back.
Cut to the beach, the lemurs are having a going away party for the animals, and the penguins make Alex some sushi, which Alex likes and they realize will keep him from wanting to eat the others.
On the deck of the boat the others decide to make some stops along the way back and have some fun. Cut to the penguins sunbathing on the beach. One asks the lead penguin should we tell them the boat is out of gas? The lead penguin replies Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave.
End credits start with the Move it song.
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