Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 11/13/08 18:03:59

"They still like to move it move it, and I still don't care."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

First things first: “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is a stupid title. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It is stupid because of its horrid misuse of the numeral “2.” It is stupid because Madagascar is technically part of Africa, and you can’t escape to someplace if you’re already there. It is stupid because less than one percent of the story takes place in Madagascar, but the filmmakers insist on putting it in the title anyway so us idiots in the audience would know it’s a sequel.

Truth be told, I had forgotten all about “Madagascar” until this sequel was announced. I had forgotten about its unfunny characters, I had forgotten about its lame animation, I had forgotten about its evil attempts to further the career of Sasha Baron Cohen. Upon further recollection, I did remember its repeated use of the song “I Like To Move It,” because as the father of a young child, I spent several months after “Madagascar” hit theaters listening to my daughter tell me how much she likes to move it move it, she likes to move it move it, she likes to move it move it, she likes to move it.

Truth be told again, my daughter, despite her apparent love for “moving it,” had also forgotten all about “Madagascar.” Shortly after she stopped singing that dreadful song, she stopped mentioning the movie altogether. She never asked to buy the DVD or watch it on TV. She had moved on. The movie had proven to be disposable in every way.

So when “Madagascar: Escape 2 The Bigger Part Of Africa” was released, both daughter and I met the news with mild bemusement, like hearing the name of an old high school buddy you had forgotten, or discovering a celebrity you thought died years ago was still alive, or learning that Ralph Nader was running for president one more time. (Or, for my daughter, whatever the eight-year-old equivalent of such feelings may be.) “Madagascar”? That’s still around? Huh.

“Madagascar,” in case you also have forgotten, was about four talking animals, all used to the comfortable life at the Central Park Zoo, washing up on the shore of Madagascar, where they would’ve had to fend for themselves in the wild were it not for the help of a tribe of lemurs with zany accents; meanwhile, penguins who talk like Phil Hartman steal a ship, or something.

Now comes “Madagascar: Escape 2 The Part Of Africa That’s Just A Little Over To The Left,” in which, after a cutesy flashback opener featuring baby versions of the main characters (because that’s never the work of sequel desperation), the animals, penguins, and a couple lemurs build a plane and take off in an attempt to return to New York. They wind up crashing in the middle of an African nature reserve, where Alex the Lion (voiced again by Ben Stiller) meets his father, King Zuba (Bernie Mac). It’s an African paradise for all: Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) is thrilled to find a bevy of available, in-the-mood male hippos; Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) is thrilled to find a herd of zebras exactly like him; and Melman the Hypochondriac Giraffe (David Schwimmer) is thrilled to be named the tribe’s new doctor.

Ah, but it doesn’t last. Melman becomes convinced he’s going to die soon; Gloria realizes that all the male hippos are shallow and dumb; Marty gets depressed at the fact that all the zebras look and sound just like him. (Rock provides the voice for hundreds of zebras here.) As for Alex, things fall apart when Zuba discovers he’s not a fighter but a dancer.

It’s all very formulaic kiddie flick stuff, with everyone involved phoning it in, anxious for a quick paycheck. The whole thing’s also a bit overcrowded, as screenwriter Etan Cohen attempts to make up for the previous film’s under-use of Gloria and Melman by cramming all of the characters into their own little crises, but the lack of proper pacing leaves everything a clutter.

Cohen also brings back the Old Jewish Lady from the first film; she had about a minute of screen time there and gets promoted to key player here (she’s a tourist who leads a lost safari group to safety, beating up jungle creatures along the way). It’s a classic sequel problem: give a scene-stealing bit player a major upgrade, never mind that people liked the bit player because she was only there for a minute or two. Here, this one-joke character overstays her welcome before her first scene is finished, and she’s got plenty more to go. I assume that for “Madagascar: Escape 3 America,” the Old Jewish Lady will be seen in every frame of film.

The rest of the picture is filled with overlooked opportunities and mismanaged story threads, like the times the script seems this close to a “Lion King” parody, only to ignore the chance, or the bit where the king lemur convinces everyone to sacrifice Melman to the volcano, a plot point which seems to come out of nowhere. The story leads up to an adventure involving a trip off the nature reserve, efforts to unblock a dam, and penguins flying a makeshift helicopter - and yet, for a climax that should be bursting with wild action and inventive delight, it all feels so by-the-numbers. Oh, look! After Alex uses his dancing to save the day, Zuba realizes it’s OK if his son isn’t macho. Who saw that coming?

The animation is still unattractively blocky, only this time, the animators take shortcuts that make things even worse. All of the hippos and lions and giraffes and zebras are exact copies of the main characters - right down to every spot, stripe, and strand of hair. That’s cute when you’re joking about how Marty looks like everyone else, not so much when you’re looking at a group of hippos and wondering which one is the star. At least the backgrounds look nice.

Oh, and the whole thing both opens and closes with “I Like to Move It,” because if it was funny once the first time, surely we’d love it twice now. Ugh. “Madagascar: Escape 2 The Concession Stand To Get Away From The Grating Jokes And Dopey Pop Culture References And Ugly CGI Work” is as lifeless and cheap as its predecessor. It’s cheap cinematic filler, something to kill the time until the next kids’ movie comes along.

The upside, I suppose, is that we’ll all forget about it in a few weeks.

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