Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

Rating: C+

Dir: Eric Darnell + Tom McGrath
Star (voice): Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett-Smith

The original was a surprising guilty pleasure, driven by a bevy of amusing characters. They’re all back for the sequel – the good thing about animation is, your stars can’t make outrageous contract demands [or, at least, if they do, voice actors can be replaced a lot more easily]. Yet, there’s a sense the script was less written than stitched together from The Lion King and Happy Feet, two other animated movies featuring lions and penguins. On their way back from Madagascar to New York, their plane crash-lands in Africa, where Alex the lion (Stiller) finds out he is actually the son of the local pride’s leader. However, a rival has his eye on the spot, and Alex’s fondness for dance over the more usual lion-related activities – say, disembowelling gazelles – could be the leverage needed for the takeover bid.

Meanwhile, Marty the zebra (Rock) is discovering his individuality isn’t all it’s crackalacked up to be, while Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo are looking for love in all the wrong places. And the penguins are trying to repair the plane. Certainly a lot going on, and in the main, if you don’t like this plot-thread, don’t worry, there’ll be another along in a minute. However, the central one of Alex feels like a bludgeoning lesson in tolerance and diversity – I spent more time wondering what all the lions eat, because they exhibit absolutely no interest in any of the other big game with which they share the screen. In the middle, the movie failed miserably to distract me from such thought.

However, on the edges, there are enough shiny baubles in the sweeping African landscapes, etc. to distract, and the film is worth sitting through, simply for the penguins alone – as in the original, they are the best thing about the movie, and I still hope they get more than the lukewarm TV series to which they have been consigned. It’s these fringes that are a great deal more amusing than Stiller: this time round, he seems to be in it mostly for the pay-check, though the rest of the cast don’t do badly. Not so much a pleasant surprise as the original, yet I’d be hard-pushed to claim this as anything other than well-made, albeit largely forgettable.