by Mel Valentin
"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," the latest family-oriented, computer-animated film to come out of the DreamWorks Animation assembly line, is like its predecessor, a grab bag of cheap, easy laughs, sporadically clever or humorous gabs, and animation a step or two above the mediocre. With the exception of one or two set pieces and colorfully detailed backgrounds, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" will leave animation aficionados slightly bored and families eager for unchallenging, time-passing fare modestly entertained. Harsh as that sounds, that’s exactly what DreamWorks Animation is counting on at the box office. Chances are good it’ll work for DreamWorks Animation.Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa picks up where Madagascar left off. Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), the “King of New York,” and his three partners-in-crime/friends, Marty (Chris Rock), a wise-cracking zebra, Melman (David Schwimmer), a hypochondriac giraffe, and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), a hippo, are minutes away from departing Madagascar and returning to New York City with the help of Skipper (Tom McGrath), an enterprising penguin and his associates, Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Private (Christopher Knights), who’ve repaired an airplane. The island’s lemur king, Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), and his second-in-command, Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), decide to tag along for the return trip to New York.
"Once again, DreamWorks Animation proves it's not Pixar."
Not surprisingly, the best-laid plans of penguins and zoo animals go awry. The makeshift plane runs out of fuel over Africa and crash lands. Luckily, everyone survives without even minor injuries. While the Skipper and his crew work on repairing the plane for flight again, Alec, Marty, Melman, and Gloria decide to look around. Almost immediately, they discover they crash-landed on a wildlife preserve. Alec meets his long-lost parents, Zuba (the late Bernie Mac), the king of the lions (and, by extension, all of the animals in the preserve), and his mother, Mom (Sherri Shepherd). Marty discovers he’s not as unique as he once thought: all of the zebras he meets look and sound alike. Since he knows so much about medicine, Melman becomes a giraffe doctor. Gloria meets other hippos and immediately connects with Moto Moto (Will.i.Am), a smooth-talking, gravel-voiced “ladies man.”
Zuba’s long-time rival, Makunga (Alec Baldwin), convinces Alec to undergo a rite-of-passage, one he should have undergone much earlier, but missed due to his absence. Unaware that the rite-of-passage involves physical competition (i.e., fighting) rather than a contest (i.e., dancing or performing), Alec loses and is exiled. Meanwhile, Marty struggles with his identity, Melman learns that he’s terminally ill, Gloria continues her romance with Moto Moto, and, more importantly, the watering hole begins to dry up. That gives Alec a chance to prove himself to his father and the other animals, while also introducing another element into the mix: the preserve’s protections only extend to its borders and several carloads of tourists are hungry.
Story wise, originality has rarely been a priority for DreamWorks Animation and it isn’t here. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa borrows, often shamelessly, from Disney’s The Lion King, both in the relationship between the father and son and the anxious rival who covets the king’s crown. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa also borrows a few elements from Joe Versus the Volcano and Ice Age through the insufferably annoying, but occasionally funny, Mort (Andy Richter), one of King Julien’s sycophantic subjects, a stowaway who hitches a ride on the plane. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa also leans heavily on semi-offensive ethnic stereotypes, from the wise-cracking African American (Marty), to the hypochondriac Jewish character (Melman), and every stereotype in between.
Thematically, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa runs through the usual life lessons animation companies like to impart in their films: be yourself, stand up for yourself, stand up for your friends and family, follow your heart, rise above selfishness and think about others, and, in all things, follow the Golden Rule (do unto others as they would do unto you). As themes go, the themes in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa are inoffensive, perfect for a high-profile animated film (with a budget and marketing costs to match) meant for cross-demographic appeal, with an emphasis on families."Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" certainly does that much, but as with previous DreamWorks Animation efforts, with the exception of last summer’s "Kung Fu Panda," they pale in comparison with anything put out by Pixar Animation Studios. DreamWorks Animation, however, puts a premium on getting product to market as often as possible (thus their higher output), sacrificing animation and storytelling quality in the process. In that, unfortunately, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" fits the DreamWorks Animation template perfectly: passable, if unmemorable animation, average-to-above-average story, and a smattering of pop culture jokes and sight gags to keep undiscriminating moviegoers reasonably satisfied.
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originally posted: 11/07/08 12:00:00