Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Voices by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer. Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath. Written by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, and Etan Cohen. Rated PG.
Off the Island

Animal overpopulation helps bring down the sequel to Madagascar.


When the animated comedy Madagascar came out three years ago, it proved to be a fair-sized hit though by no means an earth-shaking one. The inevitable sequel ó entitled Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ó lands in theaters this week, and a third film has already been announced to be in the works. Thatís too bad, because this second installment shows that the series has already run out of invention.
The story picks up shortly after the end of the first movie, with Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo, and Melman the giraffe (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer respectively) preparing to fly back to New York on a plane thatís patched together and piloted by the four unhinged penguins who busted them out of Central Park Zoo. Even with those birdbrains in control, the flight goes surprisingly well until the plane runs out of gas and the animals wind up crash-landing in a nature preserve in Africa. The preserve turns out to be home to lots of animals like our heroes, who are initially overjoyed, though they find that their return to the motherland has its own complications. Martyís dismayed to find that the zebras all look, talk, and behave exactly like him. (Theyíre all also voiced by Chris Rock.)
The movie suffers from a common problem with sequels: too many characters. The weepy subplot with Alex being reunited with his long-lost parents (voiced by Sherri Shepherd and the late Bernie Mac) is unfortunate, and the only reason it isnít a major irritant is because so many other plotlines compete with it for screen time. In a development thatís shamelessly cribbed from The Lion King, Alex has to regain control of the lion pride after his father is overthrown by a usurper (voiced by Alec Baldwin as an oily New Jersey-accented phony). Meanwhile, Melman pines away with unrequited love for Gloria, whoís dating a player of a male hippo (voiced by Additionally, the old Jewish lady (voiced by Elisa Gabrielli) who kicked Alexís ass in the subway in the first movie returns to haunt him again, and the lemur king and his chief advisor (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen and Cedric the Entertainer) are still hanging around.
With all this going on, no wonder the story is all over the place. The drama never has a chance to build, and with all these different characters vying for laugh lines, thereís precious little comic material to parcel out to them. (Itís never a good sign when the stray wisecracks emanating from the crowd scenes are the funniest lines in the picture.) Thereís a germ of a comic idea when the penguins set about repairing the plane again and recruit the monkeys in the jungle to help them, only to run into labor-versus-management troubles. This, like everything else about the movie, isnít given time to develop. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa comes from DreamWorks Animation, which also turned out the much superior Kung Fu Panda earlier this year. Letís hope they come up with funnier situations for that sequel than they did for this one.

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