- Rated PG
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All photos © DreamWorks
Reviewed by David Medsker
t’s the heartwarming tale of a boy who’s ostracized from the group for not being like the others, only to save the day, and earn his father’s respect, with his extraordinary dancing skills. His father, though, has other problems. There is a cunning beta male plotting to use the son as a tool to usurp the throne from the father. There is a saying that talent borrows but genius steals, and by that definition “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” would be the Brian Wilson of animated movies, since it is nothing but “The Lion King” and “Happy Feet” rolled into one.
The movie begins with the origins of Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) being lured away from his father on an African game reserve and winding up in a crate that washes ashore in New York. Cut to present-day Alex, Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith) about to board an airplane – built and operated by the mischievous penguins – and leave Madagascar for New York. The plane, of course, falls apart almost as soon as it leaves the ground, and the group crash lands on a reserve in Africa. And not just any reserve but the one Alex was born in, putting him face to face with his father Zuba (the late Bernie Mac) for the first time since his abduction. Makunga (Alec Baldwin), however, sees the reunion of father and son as a means to banish both from the group, making him the new king. Marty, meanwhile, is having identity issues as a member of the zebra pack, and Gloria is unimpressed with the male hippos. Melman becomes the giraffes’ new witch doctor, but is told he has two days to live during his first day on the job.
The lemur king Julien is once again voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen, and his role here is expanded now that he’s a star in his own right. That is part of the problem with “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”: the star caliber of the voice talent is dictating the storytelling, which in the case of Cohen leads to an unfunny supporting character being unfunny for a longer period of time. (Pixar would never dream of making such a rookie mistake.) That move is minor compared to the story itself, though. Makunga even has dark hair and features, making him a copy of Scar in every way, and the act that leads to Zuba and Alex’s dismissal from the group is one of those plot devices where, if one simple statement will clear up any misunderstandings, then for God’s sake keep your mouth shut. Ugh.
The movie also has one heck of a mean streak. The old woman who beat up Alex in the train station in the original movie is back again, and she and Alex get into a full-fledged brawl, knocking out one of Alex’s teeth (!) in the process. The penguins, meanwhile, make off with the Jeep that the old woman’s tourist group was in, but not before throwing her out of the car…and backing up to hit her once more before they leave. It’s one thing to have fun with the indestructible septuagenarian, but another entirely to have characters deliberately trying to kill or maim her. There is also a bit where Alex can’t tell Marty apart from the other zebras, because, you know, they all look alike. Again, Marty is voiced by Chris Rock. Did they really just go there? Wow.
For every step forward that DreamWorks Animation has made in the last few years (“Over the Hedge,” “Kung Fu Panda”), they still have a weakness for taking the easy, obvious joke (“Bee Movie,” “Shrek the Third”). If they ever want to be taken as seriously as Pixar, they need to start taking the movies they produce seriously, and given the number of story problems and continuity errors that plague “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” – how, exactly, did Alex float in a crate from east side of Africa to New York, and why does the mark on his hand only appear when the plot makes mention of it? – it appears that DreamWorks was once again asleep at the wheel.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The concept of putting audio commentaries on movies for kids may seem like a strange practice, but it’s actually the best part of the “Escape 2 Africa” Blu-ray release. A good listen on its own, the filmmaker commentary is even better when viewed as part of the disc’s “Animators’ Corner” feature, which includes a picture-in-picture video track with storyboards, interviews and additional behind-the-scenes material. There are several other production-related featurettes that you can go ahead and file under the Things Your Kid Won’t Care About folder, but the inclusion of a Swahili phrase guide (“Jambo Jambo”), music videos, and two episodes of the new "Penguins of Madagascar” series should keep them busy on a rainy day.