Movie Review - Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
By Matthew Huntley
November 14, 2008

I hate this furry little guy and wish evil upon him.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa has everything a little kid could ask for in a movie - talking animals, bright colors, action & adventure, caricatured humans and slapstick comedy. If I was between the ages of four and 12, I would adore this movie, and any parent should gladly take their kids to see it because they know how much the little ones will marvel in its humor and zaniness.

But, alas, I'm no longer between the ages of four and 12. As an adult, I found the movie to be cute and amusing, but it lacks the intelligence, wit and sophistication of other animated features like Ratatouille and Kung Fu Panda, which worked for both kids and adults.

Don't get me wrong. Kids are entitled to movies exclusively made for them. But as a film critic, I cannot rightly recommend a movie simply because it delivers what its audience craves. I have to judge whether or not the movie worked for me. The verdict on Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa - almost.

I vaguely remember the original Madagascar"(2005) and how it held its own in the ever-growing landscape of animated features. The premise was original: four Central Park Zoo animals are deported to Africa after running amok in New York City. Along the way, a shipwreck detours them to Madagascar, where they must interact with the wary natives and find a way home.

The sequel is just as cheerful and high-spirited. Alex the Lion (voice of Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) think they're finally returning to New York City. But thanks to those crazy and absent-minded penguins, who are still convinced they can fly, their makeshift plane crash-lands on an African reserve, where the gang discovers there are other animals just like them.

Before all this happens, we get a little backstory on Alex (a.k.a. Alakay), who as a young cub cared more about dancing and performing than pouncing with his father, Zuba (Bernie Mac). Alex was kidnapped by hunters and wound up in the Central Park Zoo, where the public immediately fell in love with him and his dance moves, earning him the nickname, "The King of New York."

Back on the African reserve, Alex reunites with his mom and dad, who still want him to succeed Zuba as the next king of the jungle. Meanwhile, Marty questions his individuality when he finds an entire herd of zebras who act and sound just like him. Melman, who's more in love with Gloria than ever, becomes the local witch doctor but believes he's going to die after learning the fate of the last witch doctor. Gloria, blind to Melman's feelings, thinks it's time to start dating other hippos. She flirts with the rotund Moto Moto (Will.I.Am), who has the right kind of body but lacks the charm and sensitivity to match it.

The plot is more or less a series of gags that show the animals adapting to their new environment. They come upon a band of tourists, including the obnoxious old lady from New York (Elisa Gabrielli), who still won't let anyone touch her purse. The villain, you might say, is the jealous Makunga (Alec Baldwin), who schemes his way into becoming the alpha lion and bans Alex and his parents from the reserve, a subplot that calls to mind The Lion King, only tamer.

Everything in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa looks great. The animation is sharp and the action scenes are thrilling, especially the opening chase sequence when Zuba tries to save Alakay from the hunters. But the overall story is too simplified and mediocre. It just sort wanders from one scene to the next, and while kids will have a glorious time watching it, adults will be yearning for something more witty and involving.

I will say this is one of jolliest and most upbeat movies I've seen in a while. There isn't a mean or cynical bone in its body. While that aspect was refreshing, it wasn't enough to make up for the second-rate storytelling. If you must see Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, see it when you know there will be kids in audience. With any luck, their joy and giddiness will be contagious.