MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA
*** (out of 5)
November 7, 2008
Ben Stiller as ALEX THE LION
Chris Rock as MARTY THE ZEBRA
David Schwimmer as MELMAN THE GIRAFFE
Jada Pinkett Smith as GLORIA THE HIPPO
Sacha Baron Cohen as KING JULIAN
Bernie Mac as ZUBA
Directed by: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
To me, there’s a lot of similarities between the “Ice Age” movies and the “Madagascar” movies. First, both series are about animals going on a journey. Second, they have similar animation styles. And third, they both suffered the same problems in their sequels… although “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” made it through these problems better than “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”
The strength of the first “Madagascar” was its silliness. It never took itself too seriously. The characters were very goofy, and it was the secondary players (i.e., the penguins and the lemurs) that really stole the show.
That silliness is kept up in the film’s sequel, and that’s what makes it work. While Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) are all given storylines, it is the wayward penguins who are the heart and soul of the picture. Why else did they score so much screen time in the trailers?
King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) is also back as the ruler of the lemurs. Those were the characters I loved the most in the first film, and it’s a great relief to see that the filmmakers have listened to the fans and brought them back in significant roles for the sequel.
This film takes off where the first one ended. The animals from the Central Park Zoo are stranded on the island of Madagascar, and the lemur empire is attempting to send them back in a plane flown by penguins. However, since penguins can’t fly (chuckle, chuckle), the plane crash lands in Africa where Alex is reunited with his father Zuba (Bernie Mac).
However, Alex is intimidated by his father’s position as ruler, and he tries to fit in. But a scheming lion who wants to be the head of the pride meddles in their business in the hopes to knock Alex (and Zuba) out of the picture.
This sequel isn’t as snappy as the first film, which had a distinct freshness about it. It also stumbles in the middle, trying to find a significant plot line for Marty (finding his identity in a herd of zebras), Gloria (finding a hippo who loves her for who she is) and Melman (overcoming his hypochondria and become a doctor to the other giraffes). Where all of these characters were essential to the first film, they struggle to find their way in this movie.
However, unlike “Ice Age 2,” “Madagascar: Back 2 Africa” manages to refocus the characters and have them rally around each other near the end of the film. The middle-of-the-movie speed bumps are quickly forgotten when the film comes to a climax.
But all this characterization and plot development is unnecessary for the target audience. “Madagascar: Back 2 Africa” is a movie for kids. We haven’t had the glut of CGI animated films this year, so families are starved for some wholesome entertainment. And with the exception of a little bit of bathroom humor, and some vague hippo sex references, this film is squeaky clean.
Expect “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” to kill at the box office. Even at the huge multiplexes, there are only three movies in wide release that have G or PG ratings – “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” and the 3D presentation of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” With James Bond flying solo in the next week and families ready to enjoy some holiday-related outings to the movie theaters to escape gloomy weather, this film is going to rake in the dough.