“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” might not offer audiences cutting-edge animation or a particularly original story. It still has a lot going for it, though: foot-tapping music, laughs for young and old and the prodigious talents of Sacha Baron Cohen.
In the DreamWorks children’s flick, a sequel to the 2005 film, four animals from the Central Park Zoo find themselves still far from home. Lion Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), hippopotamus Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) were released from their bonds after an escape attempt went bad and were sent back to their ancestral homeland of Africa. (It’s all shown quickly again for youngsters who weren’t old enough to make the original film a hit.)
The four didn’t want their freedom, though, much preferring the cushy life in Manhattan. They got shipwrecked off the coast of Madagascar in the first film, and their attempts to return to New York don’t fare any better in the second. Air Penguin - run by the birds who were so popular in the first film that they’re about to get their own Nickelodeon series - crash-lands on the African mainland.
All four friends are amazed to find themselves surrounded by hundreds of their species. “It’s like ‘Roots’!” Marty exclaims when he sees a herd of zebras. Some welcome the news - Gloria wants to meet a man and settle down. Others don’t - Marty starts feeling he’s nothing special when even best friend Alex can’t tell him and the other zebras apart.
The plot picks up when Alex realizes he has found his mother (Sherri Shepherd) and father (the late Bernie Mac). Unfortunately, an aggressive lion (played to perfection by Alec Baldwin) uses the reunion to wrestle the mantle of alpha lion away from Alex’s dad. Even worse, the new king of the cats isn’t equipped to deal with the problems created by a group of New York tourists stranded when those penguins steal their jeeps for the metal needed to fix the plane.
“Madagascar 2” is opening in Imax at two area theaters, AMC Hoffman and AMC Potomac Mills. The picture doesn’t gain much with the increased technology because the animation doesn’t attain Pixar levels of beauty, but the sound does. The music is pretty irresistible, in fact, co-written by Hans Zimmer and Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am, who also voices Gloria’s love interest.
The script, by “Tropic Thunder” co-writer and Mike Judge collaborator Etan Cohen, is rather rote in terms of story, but the jokes are pretty good. When a penguin wants to get rid of someone before takeoff, he simply cries, “He’s carrying scissors and hand cream!”
Most amusing is Mr. Baron Cohen, who returns to voice King Julien XIII, a lemur who rules over his species in Madagascar with a curious Indian accent. The priceless primate steals every scene he’s in, though he puts one of the foursome in jeopardy when he decides a sacrifice to the gods is the only way to solve a water crisis.
Adults might feel a bit uncomfortable watching animals repeatedly spar with an old woman, but enough jokes are written for them to keep them occupied, and they’ll have trouble leaving the theater not humming along with their children to those catchy tunes.
TITLE: “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”
RATING: PG (Some mild crude humor)
CREDITS: Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath. Written by Etan Cohen.
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
WEB SITE: madagascar-themovie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS