Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa picks up where the first Madagascar left off: with the main characters, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) trying to get home to New York after their adventure on the island of Madagascar. In the sequel, the four friends, along with those ingenious penguins, the two monkeys, Mason and Phil, that wacky lemur, King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his sidekick, Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), wind up in the African outback, their original destination from the first film.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is just as good as the first one and even surpasses it in the emotions department. On the whole, it’s a suitable family film all around, nothing too scary and nothing too gross or adult in its humor. The movie opens with a brief prologue explaining Alex’s beginnings and how he wound up in New York City. As a cub, he was Alekey, son of Zuba (Bernie Mac), the alpha lion in their pride. We find Zuba trying to teach his young son how to be a fighter, but the little one just wants to dance and chance butterflies, like most young human children.
In this opening, we also meet Makunga (Alec Baldwin), Zuba’s nemesis. Zuba is a burr in Zuba’s side and this early confrontation between the two of them sets up Alex’s story arc for the rest of the film. While Zuba and Makunga wrestle, Alekey is stolen by poachers and tossed and a wooden crate. A dramatic, heart wrenching chase sequence ensues in which the lion father tries to rescue his son, but to no avail. However, Alekey does not wind up with the poachers. His crate tumbles into the river and drifts into the ocean, eventually ending up in New York City. The cub is placed in the zoo, where young Marty, Gloria and Melman are already residing. We watch as Alekey becomes Alex the lion and then we quickly get a refreshed of most of the first movie’s events.
From there we travel to Madagascar, where those crafty penguins have assembled an airplane. Wisely, the films’ directors, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, get the obligatory use of the song. “I Like to Move It,” (which became so closely associated with the first film) out of the way within the first five minutes. The plane takes off, it runs out of gas, and crashes in Africa. Don’t worry; the sequence isn’t too intense for little ones. Once in Africa, the pals discover that they are in the same watering hole where Alex was born. A plot contrivance, but it’s allowed in this case.
Alex is reunited with his parents, but embarrasses his father in a tribal ritual, getting Alex banished from the pride. As you may guess, Alex has been set up by Makunga so that he may become the Alpha male and run the pride. Meanwhile, Marty joins a herd of zebras that all look and sound exactly like he does. Marty soon discovers that being an individual isn’t such a bad thing. Gloria decides that it’s time to settle down and goes looking for a mate, attracting the eye of Moto Moto, the stud of the hippo herd. Melman, after years of hypochondria and receiving more medical care than any human or animal alive, uses his medicine knowledge to become the witch doctor to the animals gathered around the watering hole. King Julien creates mayhem, the penguins go about rebuilding the airplane with the help of hundreds of monkeys, and there is a pointless (I feel) subplot about human tourists lost in the wild, including the cantankerous old woman who beat up Alex in Grand Central Station in the first Madagascar.
Whew! That’s a heck of a lot going on. Yet, the script and the film’s pacing handle everything with ease and keep the action moving along. What’s more, time is allowed for a romance to come to fruition between Melman and Gloria and also for a heartfelt father and son relationship to develop between Alex and Zuba. All in 89 minutes!
Artistically, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa has the same bright, vibrant look of the original film, making Africa come alive on the screen. As with most DreamWorks films, pop culture references fly by you a mile a minute, most of them jokes that will sail over your kids’ heads. The performers, as always, are fantastic. Stiller, Rock, Pinkett-Smith and Schwimmer reprise their roles with the enthusiasm they brought to the first film, while Cohen seems to have been given more leeway to improvise. King Julien is even more insane in this 2nd film. Bernie Mac is perfectly cast as Zuba, bringing the same tenderness, exasperation, and fierceness he gave to his celebrated sitcom. Sadly, with Mac’s death last year, Zuba will likely not appear in the next sequel (as he shouldn’t, in my opinion). Alec Baldwin is spot on as the slimy Makunga and Will.i.am is surprisingly good as Moto Moto.
The DVD is well stocked with extras, including a nice featurette on the casting of the movie and a making of featurette detailing how the film came together. Less impressive are the “music videos” featuring Will.i.am’s songs from the film. The songs are pleasant, but I didn’t find them so great to want to listen to them over and over again. A two pack version of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is also available that includes a 2nd DVD. That DVD has an episode of the upcoming “Penguins of Madagascar” series that is soon to premiere on Nickelodeon.