Friday, November 7, 2008

Madagascar, Escape 2 Africa: African pride

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) • View trailer for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Four stars (out of five). Rating: G, and suitable for all ages
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.7.08
Buy DVD: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa • Buy Blu-Ray: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Rare is the sequel that outshines its predecessor.

Godfather 2 comes to mind, along with Aliens.

And now, on a much more trivial — but no less entertaining — level, we can add Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
This doesn't look like New York! After a near-death experience while flying
Penguin Airways, our heroes — from left, Melman, Gloria, Alex and Marty —
are astonished to discover that they've been dumped into an African wild animal
preserve. Better still, a nearby watering hole boasts a wealth of giraffes, hippos,
lions and zebras. Could this be ... home?

The degree to which 2005's Madagascar entered the public consciousness has been obvious for months, as movie fans young and old burst into smiles and bobbed their heads in time with the theater preview's signature tune refrain of "We like to move it, move it." Clearly, interest has been high in this second visit with Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo.

Ironically, though, those very lyrics had much to do with my dissatisfaction with the first Madagascar. It didn't move all that well, with a first act that couldn't quite make up its mind which approach to take, and characters that seemed little more than animated vehicles for the endless one-liners spouted by (respectively) Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Individuality and purpose were seriously lacking, which made it difficult to identify with the four heroes, no matter how cleverly they were animated.

Well, directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath — who, with Etan Cohen, also wrote this script — have improved things considerably. Aside from the clever sight gags and the often screamingly funny situations into which our protagonists are dumped, each critter also gets a serious dramatic character arc, all of which tie in with the larger running narrative: the ongoing desire to leave this wild environment and return to the comforts of the New York Zoo.

First, though, we're treated to a prologue that recaps the major plot points of the first film, and adds some crucial backstory, as we discover how Alex wound up in New York in the first place. This involves a pell-mell chase and a tragic moment of parental loss, both of which signal the zippy pacing and more involving dramatic arcs to come.

Then it's back to the present, as our four friends happily board the dilapidated plane somehow resurrected by all the lemurs under the rule of the cheerfully daffy King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen). Everybody expects a smooth flight, which seems foolish, given that the aircraft is being piloted by the militarily precise but clueless penguins (Chris Miller, Christopher Knights and McGrath).

And, sure enough, the trip comes to an abrupt halt, dumping our entire cast in the middle of an African wild animal preserve, in a crash sequence with enough hilarious sight gags to fuel the entire film, let alone this madcap three-minute sequence.

Alex, overcome by an unexpected sense of déjà vu, is overjoyed to be reunited with the father (Bernie Mac, as Zuba) and mother (Sherri Shepherd) he never knew he had.

Alex's three friends are similarly overwhelmed to discover many, many new friends of their own kind. Gloria immediately finds herself pursued by an ultra-stud hippo dubbed Moto Moto (Black Eyed Peas member, while Melman overcomes his fussy hypochondria by becoming the local witch doctor.

Marty's encounter with a zebra herd is a stitch, because every one of these hundreds of new "cousins" looks, sounds and behaves with Memorex-style mimicry ... all of them voiced by Rock, of course. Poor Marty, having believed himself unique, is dismayed to discover that he's (ahem) merely one of the herd.

The tension escalates thanks to Makunga (Alec Baldwin at his most sinister), a rogue lion who prides himself as the pride's next alpha male, and has plotted against Zuba for years. Given this heaven-sent opportunity to humiliate Zuba's long-lost son, Makunga embraces revenge with gleeful enthusiasm and becomes the villain we love to hate.

Then it's just a matter of sitting back and letting all these elements percolate, particularly after a water-related crisis erupts.

The film stumbles only with the introduction and infrequent return appearances of the human sightseers — New Yorkers, natch — passing through while on a camera safari. The distinctive animation style employed for Alex and all the animals conflicts with that used for these two-legged interlopers, who seem to have wandered in from a "Shrek" movie.

Fortunately, these superfluous people-types aren't around enough to spoil the rest of the fun. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa roars along like ... well, like a lion ... and you've gotta love a pop score that finds room for everything from Barry Manilow to Boston, with Leonard Bernstein's jazz-dance music from West Side Story thrown in for good measure.

No comments:

Post a Comment