Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

madagascar2posterstarring Ben Stiller and Chris Rock
written by Etan Cohen & directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
Rated PG for some mild crude humor.

Alex the Lion (Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) return in an unlooked-for sequel to 2005’s Madagascar. This time, the four friends from the New York zoo plot their return home via a cobbled-together airplane wreck flown by the militaristic penguins. Unfortunately, their craft only takes them as far as a reservation in the neighboring African continent, where they meet all sorts of new friends. The gang also runs into Alex’s long-lost father, Zuba (Bernie Mac). Zuba is thrilled that his son has returned to take his rightful place as alpha lion in charge of the community, but the evil Makunga (Alec Baldwin) has other plans.

For those of us who just can’t get enough computer-animated features starring wise-cracking animals who sound suspiciously like big-name celebrities, DreamWorks has come through once again. The studio has, during the past four years, brought us Shark Tale, Over the Hedge, Flushed Away, Bee Movie, Kung Fu Panda, and, of course, the original Madagascar. They have certainly shown that they can fill theater seats with this talking-animal shtick, but can they do anything else? However, perhaps such accusations are uncalled for. Most of the above were clever and reasonably enjoyable, and Kung Fu Panda could even be called excellent. Moreover, I have failed to mention the elephant in the room: DreamWorks’ Shrek franchise (though it, too, features a prominent talking animal). These are tangential considerations, and the Madagascar sequel deserves to be judged on its own merits within the narrower limits of the franchise.

The guiding theory behind the production of Escape 2 Africa seems to have been to bring back every element of the original (whether it makes any sense or not) and multiply it tenfold (in some cases, literally). Pretty much all of the characters have returned, including the penguins, the monkeys, and the lemurs. Even the old lady who beats up lions is back, and (in a fantastically ill-conceived move) wielding a much-expanded role as a crucial piece of the plot. In fact, everyone has their own compartmentalized subplot, only some of which work their way into the grand finale. The result is an extremely busy movie that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but probably ensures the viewer at least a few segments that they can enjoy along the way.

In terms of the overarching story, if Madagascar was primarily Marty’s movie, the sequel is all about Alex, filling in some of his backstory and granting him center-stage over the other animals. Despite obvious (and, honestly, superficial) similarities to The Lion King, this works fairly well. In any case, the supporting cast walks away with the show. Alec Baldwin voices a charismatic villain, Sacha Baron Cohen’s King Julien is actually more funny than grating, and the real stars are still the penguins, whose ingenuity and focus continue to provide the lion’s share of laughs.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is reminiscent of Shrek 2 in that both attempt to improve on the simplicity of the original by adding more noise, more pop culture references, more of everything. The result will probably play better with contemporary audiences, but at the cost of providing a much emptier spectacle. Then again, perhaps the movie doesn’t aspire to any higher purpose than empty, transient fun, in which case it succeeds tolerably well. But, for the record, I still don’t understand the “Move It, Move It” thing.

~ by Jared on November 7, 2008.

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