Not awful, but disappointing.
The problem is that this film has been done before, in a hundred different ways, and better. The animation is smashing, of course, and the timing, art direction, etc, etc is all slick as you would expect for a big-budget animated movie. It’s just really uninspired.
What I saw as its core problem was that it doersn’t do anything interesting with the talking-animals idea. Are they animals or are they people? The film can’t make up it’s mind. On the one hand they’re zoo-animals-as-comment-on-New-Yorkers, which is all very witty, but on the other hand, when they’re released into the wild, the lion can hardly restrain his urges to eat his friends (except that he converts to a nice fish-based diet at the end—sorry, that’s the plot I’ve just given away).
Now if they’re really animals, I don’t buy the lion’s friendship with the zebra; if they’re really New-Yorker-proxies, I don’t buy the cannibalism. The film just doesn’t commit. And having watched Finding Nemo, I can’t see that eating fish is so much more moral than eating zebras.
You see, Jungle Book worked in that respect, because the ‘personalities’ of the animals fit reasonably well to their natural behaviour. Even The Lion King with its artifical notion of lions peacibly ruling the other animals on the veldt had a certain kind of mystical logic (even if it was never particularly clear in The Lion King whether the lions actually ate their subjects…) However, this film tries to have it both ways and for that reason loses its tension.
Still, the penguins are very funny. The penguins are there as obvious comic relief… and they are genuinely funny, in a Marx brothers, slap-about sort of a way.
Best to skip Madagascar and watch Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of The Ware-Rabbit instead—that film has an accompanying short, featuring the penguins from Madagascar, so you get one tremendous film plus the best bits from a mediocre film for the price of one.