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Published: Friday, 11/7/2008

Movie review: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa **1/2

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Melman the giraffe, voiced by David Schwimmer, left, Gloria the hippo, voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith, second left, Alex the lion, voiced by Ben Stiller and Marty the zebra voiced by Chris Rock, right, are shown in a scene from the DreamWorks production " Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa." In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Melman the giraffe, voiced by David Schwimmer, left, Gloria the hippo, voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith, second left, Alex the lion, voiced by Ben Stiller and Marty the zebra voiced by Chris Rock, right, are shown in a scene from the DreamWorks production " Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa."
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Sequels to animated films love to pile it on: More characters! More big-name actors! More colorful settings!

Frankly, the strategy usually works - at least for the initial sequel: Shrek 2, Toy Story 2.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the sequel to 2005's Madagascar, follows the "more" strategy, too, adding Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin, and will.i.am to the already successful mix of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, and Andy Richter.

And yes, there are more colorful settings in this 'toon tale as well, with spectacular computer-animated eye candy of the African plains to ingest.

So the "more" in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa serves to make the movie a li'l mo' better than its predecessor.

The sequel doesn't waste much time getting to it, either, and picks up shortly after the end of Madagascar.

When we last left Alex the lion (Stiller), Marty the zebra (Rock), Melman the giraffe (Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Smith), the New York Zoo escapees were ready to leave their temporary home in Madagascar to return to the zoo. But as the Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa title tells you, that never happens.

With the help of a crew of penguins led by Skipper (Tom McGrath, who ramps up his Phil Hartman doing Charlton Heston impersonation), the animals leave Madagascar in a War World II bomber that's been repaired but is hardly sky-worthy. Lemurs Julien the King (Cohen) and his assistant, Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), inexplicably come along for the trip, too - although neither really provide as much comedic punch to this film as they did for the first.

The rickety bomber doesn't make it too far and crash lands in the wilds of Africa, where Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria encounter their own kind for the first time. As luck/plot has it, Alex is also reunited with his mother (Sherri Shepherd) and father, Zuba (Mac) for the first time since he was a cub. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa even opens with a scene explaining how Alex wandered away from his family only to wind up in the New York Zoo.

In order to stay in the pride, Alex must prove himself against another lion, which provides Makunga (Baldwin) a long-awaited opportunity to strike back at Zuba, the leader of the pride.

Marty, Melman, and Gloria have their share of problems, too, in their new home, and suddenly paradise isn't so special.

In addition to more stars, characters, etc., Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is also more of the same, which is to say, if you like the original Madagascar, you'll most likely enjoy the sequel. There's the same manic energy, although the fish-out-of-water theme is wearing thin by now. Still, there are enough adult-centered jokes/vague pop-culture references to keep parents' attention and the movie moving. And certainly kids will get a kick out it; there are kiddie jokes galore and the animation is impressive, in a non-Pixar kinda way. But Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is also about as forgettable as its predecessor. Still, it also happens to be one of only two animated films playing during the holidays - the other being Disney's Bolt, which will be released Nov. 21.

Bottom line: If you're looking for a new family film, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa will suffice; however, if you're jonesin' for a great family film, rent Pixar's Toy Story 2 instead - a sequel with considerably more to offer.

Contact Kirk Baird at

kbaird@theblade.com

or 419-724-6734.



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