Sunday, November 9, 2008

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008, Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell)

(originally written for a work newsletter)

2005’s animated hit Madagascar was a pleasant surprise, taking a relatively standard-issue fish-out-of-water storyline and jazzing it up with vibrant animation and a surprisingly heady nature-vs.-nurture theme. Now the original Madagascar gang is back with the sequel, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, in which our heroes’ disastrous attempt to return to New York City causes them to crash-land in the African savanna. All of the major characters are back again this time, not just the central foursome (Ben Stiller as Alex the Lion, Chris Rock as Marty the zebra, Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria the hippo, and David Schwimmer as Melman the giraffe) but also returning favorites like the lemur King Julian, voiced by Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen, and a quartet of resourceful no-nonsense penguins. Frankly, all this familiarity makes the movie feel somewhat stale, with many of the jokes coming off as retreads of the original movie. There’s even a fairly gratuitous and distracting subplot involving a group of American tourists who are forced to fend for themselves, with the group led by the same feisty granny who beat up Alex with her handbag in the first installment of the film.

In addition, once the gang reaches the savanna, each character gets its own storyline, with varying levels of interest. The lion’s share of the screen time (sorry) goes once again to Alex, who is not only spectacularly unsuited to life in the wild- another plot point from the original movie- but now finds himself reunited with his alpha-lion father, nicely voiced by the late Bernie Mac. However, I was much more entertained by the subplot involving Marty and the pack of zebras, who not only look exactly like him but act and talk like him as well, creating no small amount of confusion. That said, the animation is even more eye-catching this time around, with lots of vivid color and inventive (though hardly realistic) character design. And there are still plenty of funny moments, most memorably those involving the scene-stealing King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen is priceless as ever) and those crazy penguins. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa won’t win the franchise any new fans, but it should please most people who enjoyed the original film, especially kids.

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