Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa Directed by: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin Running Time: 1 hr 20 min Rating: PG
Plot: Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are finally leaving Madagascar and returning to New York City. With the help of King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and the penguin special forces (voices-Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights), the original Madagascar gang hopes to fly a makeshift plane back to the Big Apple. The problem is, they've just crash landed in Africa...
Who’s It For? Anyone and everyone. The kids will love it, because it's goofy and fun; the adults will love it for the exact same reasons, plus there's oodles of covert adult humor.
Expectations: I was extremely disappointed by the first Madagascar and I figured I'd have a similar experience: I'd love the hardcore penguins and the crazy King Julien, but I'd be bored by the story and unimpressed by the writing.
Ben Stiller as Alex: The second time around is apparently the charm, because Ben Stiller is truly adorable as Alex. The first Madagascar felt more scraped together, but this installment was written by Etan Cohen, who gave us the deliciously funny Tropic Thunder. This time around, Stiller is given more material to work with, both comic and sweet, and it makes all the difference in the world. In the first Madagascar, the character felt stifled and lukewarm at best; in Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa, we get a healthy dose of the Stiller we all adore: lovable, hapless, and a tad on the egocentric side of the spectrum. Score: 8
Chris Rock as Marty: Marty is better in this film, because, again, the writing is faster and stronger. At the same time, his character is obviously not as favored as the character of Alex, and therefore, it's not as engaging. The main plight of his character is a struggle for a unique identity among all the other zebras, but it pales in comparison to the story line between Alex and his father, and Gloria and Melman. It isn't as interesting, which makes Marty seem--almost--like an unnecessary character. He is at his best when he's filling the role as Alex's best friend. Score: 6
Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria: The best part about Gloria is her huge hippo sensuality. She's sexy because she's so huge, and in this culture especially, it would be easy for the film to make the mistake of poking fun at her size. Instead, the film celebrates her big-boned goodness and turns her into an object of great beauty. The first Madagascar did this as well, and Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa continues the tradition with a lot more zest. Pinkett Smith plays up Gloria's self-confident sexiness and the result is an extremely enjoyable character. Score: 8
David Schwimmer as Melman: Melman was one of the bigger differences between the first and the second film. In the first film, Melman's ongoing neurotic hypochondria was a potential comic goldmine that was never really tapped. In the second film, the writers have a lot more fun with Melman, granting him the position of "witch doctor" over all the other animals, which he adopts with cheerful gusto. Melman also gets one of the better storylines, as he longs for Gloria, the great love of his life. Score: 8
Sacha Baron Cohen as King Julien: Cohen, better known as Borat, has so much fun with the insane and surreal King Julien, the mad king of the lemurs of Madagascar. He was so good in the first film that it actually served to drag the rest of the movie down by comparison. The writers wisely brought the character back and gave him a bit more screen time, and then just let Cohen loose to wreak his special brand of weird and wacky havoc. Score: 10
Bernie Mac as Zuba: Bernie Mac does a wonderful job as Alex's long-lost father. He plays the character of Zuba with dignity and heart, and the chemistry between Mac and Stiller is perfect. Mac never strays into melodrama and Zuba's love for his son manages to keep from feeling manipulative. You know what's coming, because it's still formuliac, but that doesn't mean it isn't immensely satisfying. Score: 8
Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, and Christopher Knights as the Skipper, Kowalski, and the Private: The penguins must be mentioned, lest they kill me and eat my liver. Whoever thought of turning penguins into Green Berets has to be a freakin' genius, because these characters never get old. The penguins are hardcore and capable; ready for anything. I loved them in the first Madagascar, I loved them in the short right before Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-rabbit, and I loved them in Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa. They are the purest kind of fun. The only reason they couldn't carry a movie on their own is because there would be no conflict they couldn't immediately overcome. The penguins rock! Score: 10
Talking: The dialogue is terrific--tons of fun. King Julien has some of the best one-liners ("Brrring me my nuts on a silver platter"; "Let us hurry, before we all come to our senses!"), and the penguins' repartee is just as quick as ever. But now, thankfully, the main characters get to be fast and funny too, which was sadly lacking in the first installment. This movie has its own unique charm, and the writing is a huge part of that. Score: 9
Sights: The animation is spot-on--beautiful, fantastic, expressive, and perfect. The landscapes are sweeping and lovely and the attention to detail is phenomenal. The characters' expressions are also extremely complex and impressive--the movie manages to capture the broader emotions (sad, angry, happy, etc), but also more subtle emotions (skepticism, terror, heartbreak, embarrassment, flirtation, uncertainty). Extremely well done! Score: 9
Sounds: The soundtrack is the perfect complement to the film. Ultimately, it doesn't stand out as a unique feature on its own, but it doesn't detract from the film, either. Be prepared to leave the theater with your brain singing, "I like to move it, move it" and your brain might be singing it for the next six months, but it works. Like the rest of the movie, it's enjoyable. There are sadder songs for sadder scenes, but again, it doesn't feel manipulative. I can't stand being manipulated by the score, because it feels like such a copout. The movie doesn't use it against us, and for that, I was grateful. Score: 7
Best Scene: The scene between the Skipper and the picketing chimpanzees is wonderfully quick and apropos. The chimpanzees, recruited because of their opposable thumbs, are demanding benefits for maternity leave. The leaders of the chimps and the Skipper are all seated at a table, negotiating the chimps' demands, when the Skipper looks under the table and says, "But you're all males."
Ending: Again, you know it's coming--you've been expecting it for the last 1/3 of the movie. If someone had put a notepad in front of you and asked you to guess how it would end, you'd probably predict it down to the last detail. That being said, it is still a wonderful and rewarding ending. The bad guys get what's coming to them in a very PG way, the good guys are hailed as heroes, and everyone accepts everyone else for who they are. It is feel good formuliac at its best, and by then you'll be so charmed by the rest of it, the predictability of it all will hardly even register.
Questions: Why don't they remake the first movie with Etan Cohen's spiffed up screenplay, and directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath at the helm?
Rewatchability: Definitely. Good work, guys--in terms of enjoyment, I'd rank Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa up there with the Shrek films.
These anthropomorphized animals feel like our pals and it's always fun to spend time with good pals. I do love horror movies, but really bad things tend to happen to the characters in horror movies, and nothing that bad happens to anyone in Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa. It's a nice break from violence and tragedy (either on the news or in film). There is conflict and excitement; everything is nicely resolved. Wouldn't it be awesome if real life were remotely like that? It's why these films are so important to our culture, because we need these sorts of optimistic breaks from the difficulties of reality. We can't escape completely nor do we want to. However, it's darned good to spend an hour and some minutes laughing and feeling nice, surrounded by hundreds of people who are also laughing and feeling nice. You can go back to the hard stuff with renewed vigor, if you can take a break here and there and have a good, long chuckle. And Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa is a sweet, and healthy break from the harshness.
Final Score: 8/10