Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Movie Review

To a film critic, the mainstream is like a ravenous shark with a defective hypothalamus. As long as Hollywood seeds the entertainment waters with chum, the masses will feed and feed until their dead, lifeless eyes roll back in their head. Examples of this baffling binge and purge are released every year -- inexplicable, unexplainable crowd-pleasers like Wild Hogs, Norbit, and Night at the Museum. Now comes Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the even louder, more obnoxious sequel to Dreamworks' loud, obnoxious CG original. This is a film about more: More already dated pop culture references, more digitally-rendered eye candy, more abject pandering to a seemingly easy-to-satisfy demographic.

After being stranded on the tiny, titular African island, our four heroes -- egomaniacal lion Alex (Ben Stiller), hypochondriac giraffe Melmen (David Schwimmer), smart alecky zebra Marty (Chris Rock), and lovelorn hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) -- are finally headed home. On a junk airplane refurbished by those pesky penguins, self-proclaimed King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), along with his right-hand advisor Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) will take the quartet back to New York. Of course, things don't go as planned, and everyone ends up in the middle of a wildlife preserve in Africa. There, Alex meets up with his dad (Bernie Mac), mom (Sherrie Shepherd), and conniving Uncle Makunga (Alec Baldwin). When the fun-loving feline fails at the tribe's right of passage, however, it's clear these big city critters need to get back to Manhattan, and fast.

Like being beaten over the head with a bag of frosting-covered baby bunnies, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is so cutesy pie relentless it puts the Terminator to shame. This is a big screen experience so kid-oriented it should come with a pacifier and a selection of Huggies. It goes for the easy, unimaginative laughs and then barely succeeds at finding said funny business. Instead, it supports the cackles from chaos theory of comedy. Just scream and yell a lot while offering a great deal of visual busy work and baby's tiny brain will bray with manipulated happiness. As part of this year's pack of computer generated cartoons, it can't compare to Kung Fu Panda or Wall-E. In fact, it doesn't even compete with The Lion King, the 2D Disney delight from which Escape 2 Africa cribs most of its plot.

And this doesn't even begin to address the inappropriate nature of some of the material. The sexualization of cartoon animals hasn't been this blatant since Bugs Bunny gussied up to seduce Elmer Fudd, and do we really need to see a female hippo get horny over a possible hunky partner? Or how about a penguin's unnatural lust for a dashboard ornament? Even worse, danger is everpresent here, whether it's from poachers, volcanoes, drought, misguided sea creatures, or a little old lady who beats the living snot out of the characters every chance she gets (the most deplorable element of this shrill spectacle). Why PETA wastes its time protesting the Olsen twins and not taking on Madagascar's animal bashing is a mystery.

Still, if it makes the wee ones happy and keeps their parents at bay, no one will really complain. Madagascar 2 will make money, and the cast will reconvene in a couple of years to make the already unnecessary three-quel. At least there is no questioning the visual approach; the movie looks amazing. As an example of the technological leaps and bounds the genre has experienced, the images are astounding. But this is a movie relying on its wit, not its vistas, to keep audiences interested. In that regard, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa plays it safe. It's the viewer who'll be sorry.

Your table will be ready in 15 minutes.


Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG, 2008


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