Brighter, livelier, funnier, and a shade or two better than 2005´s Madagascar, Dreamworks Animation’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa finds our heroes – a quartet of animals who escaped from New York City´s Central Park Zoo in the previous film – stranded in the title country and looking to get back home. Though completely lacking substance and sometimes painfully formulaic, the film is squarely aimed at kids, who should enjoy it, with enough gags for adults to keep things entertaining. It flies by, too: extremely fast-paced, the film feels even shorter than it actually is (75 minutes, minus credits).
After a short prologue that traces the backstory of Alex the Lion, we pick up in Madagascar as Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith) are attempting to get back to New York. With the help of some resourceful penguins (the leader of which is voiced by co-director Tom McGrath), they somehow manage to operate a crashed plane and begin the journey home, joined by lemurs Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer). But a crash-landing in mainland Africa sends the plot into an hour of sitcom-formula subplots, as (*breath*) Alex is reunited with his parents (Bernie Mac and Sherri Shepherd) and his tribe; a devious lion named Makunga (Alec Baldwin) plots to have the family kicked out of said tribe so he can take over; Marty loses his identity amongst a herd of identical zebras (all voiced by Rock); Gloria lusts after local hippo stud Moto Moto (Will I Am); Melman becomes a doctor in a giraffe herd; the penguins try to fix the plane; some New York tourists adapt to the jungle; and so on and so forth. I didn´t even get to the drought or the volcano sacrifice, the conflict between Alex and Marty regurgitated from the first film, or the budding romance between Melman and Gloria.
The first film was relatively simple and straightforward – one general plotline padded out with comedic diversions to the plotting penguins – so I was surprised to be bombarded with subplots here. It´s your standard sitcom formula – a converging A story, B story, and C story – except here they´ve padded it out with storylines up to M or N. While it´s considerably more entertaining than the first film, the seams often show; screenwriter Etan Cohen wrote the successful live-action comedies Idiocracy and Tropic Thunder, and – no surprise – started out on TV with shows like King of the Hill.
Once again, the penguins steal the show; they have more screentime here (though still, not enough), more fast-talking banter, and more laughs. Easily the best thing about the movie, they´ll be getting a TV spinoff in the US later this year. To a lesser extent, the lemurs (with an Indian-accented Sacha Baron Cohen) are also funny. Supporting voice cast is also excels – particularly Baldwin, who has a lot of fun as the villain. The main characters really lack much appeal, however; I can´t say I´m looking forward to the impending Madagascar 3.
Borderline recommended: kids should like it well enough, even though the best jokes will fly over their heads. Still, the film can´t hold a candle to Pixar´s recent efforts, and falls a notch below this year´s other high-profile animated releases (Horton Hears a Who!, Kung Fu Panda). But if you (or your kids) liked the first, then by all means – this one´s better in almost every respect.
One thing: there´s a lot of slapstick violence in the film, which is fine against the anthropomorphized animal characters, clearly cartoon creations, but some of it is levied against cgi human characters, which are mostly real-looking. I couldn´t help but cringe when watching an old woman get run over by a car; this kind of content is questionable for younger children.
Title note: shouldn´t that be escape from Africa? They escaped to Africa in the previous film. But then, I suppose, you don’t get your cutsie number pun.
Please note: Madagascar 2 is playing in a Czech-dubbed version in most Prague cinemas, but you can still catch it in English (with Czech subtitles) at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům or Village Cinemas Anděl‘s “Gold Class”.
Also premiering this week are two non-English-language films, the Czech drama Anglické jahody (English Strawberries, showtimes) and the German-language Falco (IMDb | showtimes), a biography of the famed Austrian musician.
Also: the Prague Short Film Festival, showcasing the best of short films from across the globe, takes over Kino Světozor from the 13th to the 16th. Most films will screen in English or with English subtitles.