Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
For the last few generations we all grew up watching cartoons. They were there before out parents woke up on Saturday morning and were waiting for us after school. A treat provided by our parents was frequently taking us to the local movie theater to watch an animated movie. Now animated movies are so popular that there is a separate Academy Award category to laude the best animated features. Dreamworks has been taking on the giants of this venerable type of movie. One of their latest is ‘Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’. The first flick was admittedly not the greatest around so most likely a few eyes are rolling over the thought of a sequel. The good news is this helps to break the common preconception that a sequel will fall short of the original flick. This one gives the audience very funny characters and gives more in the way of development and back stories for them. Naturally, since this is geared towards the pre-tween set everything is done with a light hearted touch. Let’s face it kids of all ages love cute talking animals and this movie abounds with them. The premise of the first film was a group of animals that leave their comfortable home in the Central Park zoo and are taken back to Africa. This opens the door for a wide variety of different animals instead of the more typical dogs and cats that have dominated talking animal animation for so long. Like most animated flicks there are a few not so subtly placed messages for the young folk along the way. The film looks at the importance of family, friendship and finding your place in the world. While this is standard faire for a movie of this genre the topics are handled very well in this case and the kids will barely notice that they are receiving a lesson or two in the middle of all the comical mayhem. When you hear that the budget for this film was about $150 million you might be surprised but the process to make a computer animated film is staggering and takes a very long time to pull off. The studios were happy though since the film’s theatrical returns are approaching the $600 million mark and that was before this DVD region one release. By all accounts we can look forward to this becoming a regular franchise. The DVD release is one that your kids will thank you for when you bring it home. There is an edition that just has the feature film but you might want to consider spending a few more dollars and getting the release that includes a second disc, ‘Nickelodeon's Penguins Of Madagascar’ and make a double feature of it during family movie night.
A successful film always starts with the writer and this one had Etan Cohen to prepare the script. He has a long list of credits that include animated television such as ‘King of the Hill’ and a few episodes of its precursor, ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’. His most recent work that has drawn a lot of attention was the screenplay for the extremely funny and somewhat controversial movie ‘Tropic Thunder’. It is certain true that none of these works are what would be considered acceptable for the age group targeted here but Cohen is a very funny man and knows who to gear his humor in an age appropriate fashion. Parents do not have to worry about anything depicted in this story it is completely inoffensive. It just demonstrates that a professional comedy writer like Cohen knows his audience and can hit the mark. Since he has more experience with mature themes there is a learning curve present here. The jokes are fine for a child but may not translate as well to the grownups. Despite this fact the story is engaging enough to keep the parents willing watching. The themes that Cohen employs are universal giving this movie the potential to be a family favorite for years to come. The story picks up with the group of animals that were taken from their nice home in the zoo and wound up in Madagascar. They fix up a plane and want to fly back home to the big city but crash land in Africa. You might want to pull out a globe or world map and use this film as a little geography lesson for the kids. Since Madagascar is to the east of Africa you would indeed have to fly over the continent to reach the east coast of the States. Since the animals are smart enough to repair and fly a plane I guess it isn’t that much of a stretch to believe they know which way to go.
The team responsible for directing this movie was Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath. They both worked in the same capacity in the original ‘Madagascar’ movie. They use much of the same techniques that would be employed if this was a live action film. They start off with a little prequel explaining the roots of the main character which sets the stage for the quest for family that will follow. This is something that is not often seen in a children’s flick; respecting them and the fact that they can follow a plot. It has to be difficult to direct an animated movie. The man in charge has to work closely with animators, voice actors and still maintain a narrative for the movie. This team has it down pat and the results are delightful.
The film starts with a flashback to when Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller) was just a lion cub. He was the son of the alpha male of the pride. Zuba (voiced by Bernie Mac) but his son was more interested in frolicking around instead of learning to hunt like a proper lion. Zuba’s position in the pride is challenged by Makunga (voiced by Alec Baldwin) and during this time Alex is captured by trappers and his crate falls into the ocean and eventually lands him in the zoo in New York. We move to the present time where Alex, Gloria (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith), Melman (voiced by David Schwimmer), Marty (voiced by Chris Rock), the chimpanzees, King Julien (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (voiced by Cedric the Entertainer), and the penguins have been working on fixing their plane. They don’t realize that the plane has little fuel and they wind up crash landing in Africa. Almost immediately the group begins to find their roots. Alex is reunited with his long lost mother Florrie (voiced by Sherri Shephard) and Marty discovers a herd of zebras just like him. Makunga is still viding for leadership and is threatened by Alex forcing him to undergo a series of initiation rites. When he fails the young lion is banished and his father steps down. There is more than sufficient, PG danger and excitement to hold everyone’s attention.
The film has a color palette that is brilliant; better than the original. The use of the African veldt opens up the vista for the background and keeps the film visually fascinating. The audio is robust with a great sound field. One edition comes with a film that deals with the antics of the penguins that is a lot of fun. This is a keeper and families will be enjoying it for a long time to come.