Directed by: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath (Madagascar)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen
I’d like to start by pointing out that the title for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa doesn’t make a lick of sense. Unless you’re running for vice president, it’s geographically specious, since the island of Madagascar itself belongs to the continent of Africa. But then again, I guess Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Again doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The only reason I’m being this nitpicky is because this little discrepancy helps to illustrate the animated comedy’s biggest weakness: This sequel is basically the original Madagascar, but shifted a few hundred miles to the west. It’s the same voice talent, the same worn out pop-culture references (does the world really need yet another parody of The Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet?”) and the same ironic use of excruciatingly bad ‘90s dance music. Really, I could probably just copy and paste Ken Hanke’s Xpress review of the original from three years ago as a sign of unity as to Dreamworks’ need to recycle material, but I’m apparently supposed to have some sort of journalistic integrity that keeps me from doing so.
The animated high jinks this time center around the same core of friends—Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith)—as they crash-land their makeshift aircraft into mainland Africa. But as luck and scripting would have it, they find themselves in the middle of a picturesque nature reserve, which just so happens to hold Alex’s long lost parents (Bernie Mac and Sherri Shepherd, Who’s Your Caddy?). Complications ensue, of course, as dear old dad’s longtime enemy (Alec Baldwin) cooks up a plan to get them all thrown out of the pride, while the rest of the main characters learn important life lessons within the film’s 90-minute running time.
Much of the main story line is harmless and pleasant enough, but nonetheless pretty dull and uneventful. The latter is predicated more on the uninteresting nature of the characters than anything else. This is thrown into stark contrast when many of the underused supporting characters—such as the well-liked penguins or chess-playing monkeys—are on-screen, and the movie suddenly appears to have some modicum of life to it. It’s still a wonder that a full-blown sequel was made instead of a simple penguins spin-off, seeing as how they get the majority of the good out of the movie. But the lack of voice-talent recognition probably put the kibosh on that idea. After all, everyone knows that crowds were lining up around the block simply for the joy of hearing David Schwimmer’s voice jacked up to 100 decibels.
There is, however, an interesting strain of subversion going on in regards to lion Alex’s preference to Fosse dance numbers as opposed to tooth-and-nail violence. As a result, Alex’s “lionhood” is questioned by his father before his father’s eventual acceptance of who his son is in the final act. Still, it all feels lifted just a bit too much from Jack Black’s dolphin drag-wearing shark from Shark Tale to give it too much credit. However, it is refreshing—and maybe a bit disappointing in the long run—to see that there is some thought going on beneath the surface, even if it’s in the face of an utterly superfluous film. Rated PG for some mild crude humor.