Fans of the original will find plenty to love in the sequel (including 40% more covert penguin action).
After getting shipped off to a preserve from the New York Zoo and washing ashore in Madagascar, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) prepare to once again try to reach home, this time in a penguin-powered plane wreck with King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his loyal servant Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) setting out to expand their kingdom. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong and our animated heroes fall short of their goal, landing someplace both new yet familiar (hint: it’s in the title).
It’s still baffling why those who hate this film continue to do so. Sure, it’s not as clever as the original Shreck nor as epic as Kung Fu Panda, but as DreamWorks Animation fare goes, you could do far worse (like the last half of Shreck the Third… ugh). While the original film was all about Alex the Lion, Stiller’s critter shares the spotlight considerably more this time around, and where the first film underutilized those crafty penguins, this time they’re used just right. Yes, it’s all absurd, but it’s an upbeat and fairly original absurdity, so just get past it and enjoy the nonsense.
A few new characters are on board this time around. “Black Eyes Peas” head pea Will I. Am. voices Moto Moto, a big man of a hippo with eyes for Gloria. The late Bernie Mac lends his voice to Zuba, the current king of the African wildlife. And with apparently no shame as to what roles he takes any longer, Alec Baldwin voices Makunga, the mandatorily smarmy, narcissistic usurper to the “Lion King” throne. There are plenty more new faces and voices to mention, but none without giving away a few well-intended surprises.
The story is plotted from gag to gag, and while you can clearly feel the moment a joke is about to go too far, the plot smartly switches gears to other characters. It’s not as epic as, say, WALL-E, but then again, it’s not a thinly-disguised Greenpeace agenda masquerading as a film about the future, either. Escape 2 Africa employs that fun kind of absurdity that sets a great vocal cast and talented animators loose in a world that seeks only to parody and entertain, and it’s even nicer to see that all the best stuff wasn’t in the trailers, either.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)