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Dustin Putman

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Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath.
Voice Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd, Andy Richter, Cedric the Entertainer, Will i Am.
2008 – 89 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for some mild crude humor).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 2, 2008.
2005's "Madagascar" was a surprise runaway blockbuster that, despite its financial success, was one of the lesser computer-animated features to come out in recent years. The plot was barely there, unsupportive of its potentially imaginative premise, and the ending, noted in my earlier review, was an off-puttingly bleak and depressing cheap joke. The original film's directors, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, return to helm "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," a slightly improved sequel that nonetheless holds very little for viewers to take away and remember from it. The storyline is derivative yet passable—really, it copies too much off of 1994's "The Lion King"—but the crass gags and forgettable script keep it from being the charmer it should have been.

In "Madagascar," four Central Park Zoo animals—Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith)—escaped their Manhattan home and ended up stranded on the title island. When a barge carrying a group of penguins arrived off the shores, they thought they had been rescued until they learned the fuel tank was empty. In this new adventure, Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria make a new attempt to leave Madagascar after a makeshift airplane is built and ready for takeoff. With head of the lemurs Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) tagging along, they set off into the air for a trip around the world. Instead, they crash-land in the plains of Africa and happily stumble upon herds of their own kind. They finally feel like they're home, but Alex, reunited with his parents (Bernie Mac, Sherri Shepherd) for the first time since he was just a cub, is left an outcast when he loses a rites-of-passage battle with power-hungry lion Makunga (Alec Baldwin). With their land's water supply mysteriously drying up, Alex sets out to find the source of the problem while helping to reclaim father Zuba's reign as king.

The animation is beautiful, but otherwise "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" is about on the level of a direct-to-video sequel to "The Land Before Time." The nonsensical title is the least of its problems—how, exactly, are the characters escaping to Africa if the place they begin, Madagascar, is technically a part of Africa?—and, following an attention-grabbing prologue, the movie settles into more-of-the-same territory. The opening, depicting Alex's capture as a child and his arrival in New York City, is perilous and enthralling. The prominent use of the World Trade Center at the forefront of the landscape when Alex gets to the Big Apple is disquieting, but undoubtedly courageous, clueing in older viewers to the timeframe in which the story begins.

From there, the film settles into the present-day goings-on, as Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria leave Madagascar only to make it as far as the African mainland. The villain of the piece, Makunga, is basically a rip-off of Scar from "The Lion King," going to any means possible to become king. The writing is less reliant than its predecessor on pop-cultural references—this is a good thing, indeed—but the screenplay doesn't devise enough interesting things for its four protagonists to do. The animals' backsides and the hairy bare chests of the hippos are ogled to a disturbing degree, while the recurring use of a crotchety old lady on safari—the same one who had a small role in the first movie—is distasteful in the violence enacted upon her. When one of the penguins acts like he's been hit by a jeep carrying tourists and quickly squeezes ketchup on his stomach and cracks an egg under his head, it is not exactly the most savory of tricks to be teaching the youngsters in the audience. The idea of a hippo and a giraffe marrying is also questionable; one shudders to imagine what their offspring might look like.

When it comes to the quality of their animated films, Dreamworks is still having trouble competing with Walt Disney and, especially, Pixar. "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" will be a box-office hit, but the picture is creatively lacking and has very little of value to say. There is simply no durability to its themes, and certainly none of the resonance of something like 2003's "Finding Nemo," 2006's "Cars" or 2008's "WALL•E." From a technological standpoint, 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" is impressively colorful and attractive, and the friendship between Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria is sweet for what it is. Watching the film, though, one wishes these characters could be transplanted into a better plot with a less clichéd script. Having seen it only a day ago, it has already begun to fade from memory.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman