Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
2008, PG, 89 min. Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath. Voices by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd, Will.i.am.
REVIEWED By Theresa Everline, Fri., Nov. 7, 2008
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa extends what Madagascar did best: fill up the screen with computer-generated visual novelty. The slapstick humor remains, as does the slack plotting. Introducing only a few new characters that are unfortunately unmemorable, this sequel is likewise a decent diversion that's not much worth talking about afterward. The visual cleverness arises foremost from the central quartet of friends – lion, zebra, hippo, and giraffe – which gets placed strategically in the frame to create funny tableaus. But Madagascar 2 makes the dubious choice of splitting up the foursome in order to explore kid-worthy lessons about individuality vs. fitting in. Madagascar 2 sees the quartet leaving the titular island in a jerry-rigged airplane piloted by penguins who behave like an elite espionage squad – one of the film's pure delights. A crash landing in East Africa seems to spell disaster until the main characters realize this is where they came from: a land teeming with others like themselves, astonishing these citified animals who spent most of their lives pampered at the New York Zoo. Alex the lion (voiced by Stiller) even finds his parents, and his plotline is the filmmakers' strongest jab at dramatic tension. Alex must prove his worth to the pride of lions in general and his father in particular. Marty the zebra (Rock), initially gleeful about joining a herd, becomes despondent when it seems he's no longer special. The glass-half-empty giraffe, Melman (Schwimmer), and the unflappable hippo, Gloria (Pinkett Smith), who deserves a spot on The View, mostly bide their time until Melman's inevitable declaration of love. The message may be to look for what is unique in each person, but the film relies on copying for many of its adult-aimed jokes, using references to Born Free, Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, and the creature on the plane wing segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, to name a few. Which isn't to say these aren't funny. Indeed, this sequel contains slightly more laughs for adults, including a hilarious bit about union negotiations that will fly high over little ones' heads. Many of the zippiest scenes involve Julien the lemur (Cohen), who's puffed up with self-regard yet eager to entertain. There's something bemusingly weird about his character. Lord only knows, after all, why a lemur would speak with a vaguely Caribbean accent and try to instigate a volcanic sacrifice to angry gods. More of such quirkiness would help adult viewers, but young children will enjoy this piece of sweet cartoon candy.