Friday, June 8, 2012

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa - I Still Can't Move It, Move It

In preparing for Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, it's become a necessity to go over the first sequel to Madagascar, subtitled Escape 2 Africa in order to create a number joke. At this point I wasn't so hip to viewing this one due to the original's overall quality. Regardless, I came out of my latest viewing of this movie with a better sense of satisfaction, yet still with a feeling that some things just didn't seem quite right.

As a cub, Alex the lion lived in Africa with the name Alakay and was the son of Zuba (Bernie Mac), the alpha lion. Zuba is trying to teach his son how to fight instead of dance, which ends up with him accepting, and winning, a challenge from Makunga (Alec Baldwin) for his position. During this time, Alakay is captured by poachers, who get chased down by Zuba. In the struggle, Zuba is shot and Alakay's crate ends up making its way to New York City. In the present day, Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith) are about ready to leave the island of Madagascar for their New York home in a repaired plane piloted by the penguins Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights) and Rico (John DiMaggio) with the lemurs King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) and the chimpanzees Mason (Conrad Vernon) and Phil on board as well. During the trip however, the plane ends up crash landing on the continent of Africa, forcing the penguins and chimpanzees to begin major repairs while Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria mingle with the indigenous population around the watering hole and in the process discover what life is like with more of their kind.

The major plot line involves Alex, who is basically the main character of the franchise by this point, reuniting with his parents and finding out just who he really is and what the lions' culture entails. By taking some cues from The Lion King, this plot unfolds pretty nicely and ends up creating a bit more of an engaging story compared to its predecessor. It also happens to intertwine with themes involving the test of friendship and figuring out where the grass is greener, an idea carried over from the first film. Through a case of mistaken identity between Alex and Marty, as well as new bonds formed between Melman and Gloria, everyone grows closer together as friends and even though they opt at the end of the film to stay in Africa for a while longer, they come to find that their differences are what truly set them apart from the other animals.

Once again, while the plot moves along pretty nicely, perhaps even a little better this time around, there are some errors I found in it that on occasion were a little difficult to ignore. This is mainly in the continuity errors present, such as Alex suddenly having a significant mark on his paw that wasn't present before and an equally sudden bout of Melman having feelings for Gloria that were never hinted at to begin with. A smaller idea that I still had a hard time believing would be that every single tourist in Africa, whom the penguins steal plenty of jeeps from for airship parts, just happens to be a New Yorker.

This leads once more into a discussion on the humor. While the humor is a bit smarter, relying much less on pop culture references and containing the ideal absence of common scatological jokes, there are still a couple of times where it falls flat. Mainly, it's the fact that the old woman from the previous film returns, this time with an unnecessarily prominent role in the survival of the tourists; her inclusion seems to just be for the sole purpose of either reminding the audience that she exists or pandering to them by bringing back a popular character (because it's not Madagascar without every single character from before, right?). Otherwise, the movie is still firing on all cylinders in the funny department whenever the lemurs or penguins are in the spotlight, along with some surprisingly funny bits with the chimpanzees.

The effects of this movie are a bit improved, three years will do that I suppose, with water that flows more realistically and big stunts like the plane crash to show off what they can do. I also still liked the voice acting, including Alec Baldwin's role as the main antagonist and Bernie Mac as Alex's dad (in fact the movie is dedicated to his unfortunate passing). Hans Zimmer still does a good job with the score, but I didn't quite like's cover of Reel 2 Reel's I Like to Move It, which sounded altered to suit the events of the film and didn't have the same infectiousness or memorability as Sacha Baron Cohen's take on it before.

In the end, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is improved a little from its beginnings, but some of these bouts of inspiration are negated at some points to create a sort of compromise that gave me a very mixed outlook. The humor is smarter this time around and I did appreciate the near lack of pop culture references, minus an out of place iPod joke, along with better production and voice work. I would recommend at least one viewing just to see how the sequel turns out in your eyes, or more justifiably if you want to see more of the antics from King Julien or the penguins.

Next time this blog will look at Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, which, if the ads are true, appears to contain a high concentration of bright rainbow-colored wigs in the shapes of afros.

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