Monday, 27 April 2009

Movie Review: "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa"

heatherThe last thing that came to me from my Blockbuster queue was Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. I never miss an animated movie, but I skipped this sequel in the theater because Dreamworks is so hit-and-miss with its animated offerings. (Shrek, Shrek 2 = gooood. Bee Movie, Flushed Away = laaaame.)

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa's screenplay was fifty-eleven times funnier than the original. In fact, it was more than hilarious; it was sharp and warm, just like the stellar animation.

In the first Madagascar, Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (voiced by Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (voiced by Jada Pinkett-Smith), and Melman the Giraffe (voiced by Ross Gellar) escape the Central Park Zoo to celebrate Marty's birthday. On their way to Connecticut, they're caught at Grand Central Station and put on a boat to Kenya. Unfortunately, some penguins hijack their ship, and they wind up stranded in Madagascar.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa opens up as the Central Park Zoo animals prepare to fly back to New York. The flight goes as well as you'd expect considering the plane is refurbished and crewed by the same penguins who hijacked their ship in the first movie. They crash land in Africa, where Alex is reunited with his pride, and they meet other hippos, giraffes and zebras for the first time in their lives.

Their initial shock and excitement dissipates when they learn the ways of the wild. Alex the Lion realizes that popularity in Africa is all about brute strength, but he grew up loving to dance. Melman learns that, like him, all giraffes are hypochondriacs, but it's a small consolation because the love of his life, Gloria the Hippo, is swooning over a dude hippo who constantly flatters her heft. And Marty the Zebra? Well, he finds out that all zebras are voiced by Chris Rock.

The thing this sequel really gets right is the amount of screen-time it gives supporting characters. It's pretty standard fare to let main characters grow and develop, while the supporting characters provide comic relief. It's why boring Disney princesses always have quirky talking animals for best friends (except for Belle who is awesome on her own).

Julien, the cross-dressing King of the Lemurs, is voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen. Everything that comes out of his mouth is hilarious. ("Oh, suddenly throwing a giraffe into a volcano to make water is crazy!") The kid-favorites are the penguins. When Skipper isn't offering pragmatic flying advice ("Gently now, you just wanna kiss the ground, just a little peck, a smooch like you're kissing your sister."), he's hijacking tourist buses and stealing supplies to repair their plane. ("Pray to your personal god this hunk of junk flies.")

You don't get a cartoon movie without a moral, but it's never "Thank God for your vegetables and don't talk back to your mom and dad" when Dreamworks is delivering. In Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the lessons are about about non-traditional (inter-species, or penguin/hula doll) love; about embracing your strengths, even if it's dancing instead of wrestling; and about not fucking with New Yorkers, especially the retired ones.

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