If you’re 10 years old or younger, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa will probably be one of your favorite films of the year, and why not? It’s goofy, silly fun with gorgeous animation, enjoyable characters, toe-tapping musical numbers and some nicely animated action sequences. The sequel has a few good laughs, and is always a pleasure to look at, but is uneven and not as good as the first movie. It’s no Shrek The Third—more like Ice Age 2.
As in the CGI-animated original, the focus is on four escaped New York zoo animals: a lion (voiced by Ben Stiller); a “cracker-lackin’” zebra (voiced by Chris Rock); a hippo (voiced by Jada Pinkett-Smith); and a giraffe (voiced by David Schwimmer). This time, they find themselves happily stranded in Africa, where one of them reconnects with their past while the other three deal with an identity crisis and wrestle with romantic feelings.
The stuff that didn’t work in the original—like the penguins (amusing but not that funny), the human characters and too many trendy jokes—doesn’t work here either. It’s funny having Alec Baldwin voice a lion with a sleazy pompadour, but this doesn’t go anywhere fresh or interesting (this is especially disappointing, as you expect an all-out spoof of The Lion King). The funniest joke is, of all things, a parody of a famous scene from Twilight Zone: The Movie!
Stiller’s character and performance get the most laughs. While Rock’s work is inventive, the movie could’ve used more of him. Schwimmer is doing the same mopey romantic bit he perfected on Friends. Smith has the movie’s best scene (a would-be courtship by a suave hippo voiced by will.i.am) and Sacha Baron Cohen is hilarious as Julien, the lemur king.
The opening scene is so promising, I was expecting something better. The story is entirely unoriginal (with recycled bits from The Rundown and Happy Feet, among others) and, at best, is a cute but unspectacular time-killer. It’s worth seeing, but on DVD, not in a theater full of chair-biting, popcorn-drooling rugrats. Now they’re the real jungle beasts! MTW