The first Madagascar may not have reconfigured the children’s-film template, but its cheerful humor and lack of smarmy pop culture referencing at least elevated it above DreamWorks’s flagship Shrek series. That relative position is, thankfully, maintained by Eric Darnell and Tim McGrath’s sturdy IMAX-formatted sequel, which charts the ongoing efforts of lion Alex (Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) to escape Madagascar and return to their beloved Manhattan Central Park Zoo. With the help of crazed penguins, the foursome manage to make a derelict plane operational, yet their flight only gets them to Africa, where Alex is reunited with his pride king father (Bernie Mac) and mother (Sherri Shepherd). There, tension once again arises out of the fact that Alex is an animal whose wildness has been zoo-domesticated, though the ensuing central conflict involving Alex’s initiation into the pack is merely one of many threads jammed into this overstuffed tale. Obligated to concoct stories for its four protagonists as well as the penguins, crazed lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and little old lion-battering Nana (Elisa Gabrielli), who happens to be on a safari vacation, Escape 2 Africa quickly spreads itself too thin, with every character somewhat shortchanged by basic narrative arcs. The chief victim is Marty, whose struggle to cope with the discovery that all zebras are seemingly identical to him (in speech, lingo, personality and physical capabilities), leading to a racially suggestive running gag in which Alex can’t tell Marty apart from any of his striped brethren, is dealt with rather cursorily. Still, the overriding message that distinctiveness is a virtue rather than a drawback is conveyed with high-spirited playfulness throughout, including via Gloria and Melman’s unlikely interspecies romance, and the script’s scattershot construction gives the action a swift, merry vigor that helps compensate for its fluctuating focus. Directors Darnell and McGrath’s follow-up would undoubtedly have benefited from more innovation or daring, but its vibrant animation and innocuously rollicking comedy remains endearing, and the bizarre antics of Survivor-tough Nana and the seriously wacked King Julien, a sentimental song-and-dance lunatic with fascist tendencies, nonetheless manage to give the film its own welcome measure of individuality.
- Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
- Etan Cohen, Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
- Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bernic Mac, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd, will.i.am
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