MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA
MADAGASCAR 2: THE CRATE ESCAPE
One went into Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa with low expectations. The animated sequel is a concept that has been ruined by Disney strip-mining their classic animated films in a series of cheap direct-to-dvd spinoffs, determined to drain the kiddie market of the last dollar they can, while DreamWorks own Shrek sequels have become overrun with annoying pop culture in-jokes. There has been the odd exception such as Toy Story 2 (1999) but Pixar are in a class of their own when it comes to animation. Even the choice of title Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa shows the DreamWorks people have not studied basic matters of geography and realised that Madagascar actually is part of the African continent, which makes about as much sense as saying Escape from London to England. The great surprise about such a low expectation film is how entertaining Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ends up being.
This time returning directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath have determined to have as much fun as possible. There is never more than clearly signalled than the opening shot where the boy fishing from a crescent moon of the DreamWorks logo is abducted and his spot taken by the penguins. Darnell and McGrath do all the pop-culture in-joke gags that every other animated film and its sidekick has done to death now with the animals dancing and singing to numerous popular songs. However, they pull it off with such expert comedic timing that the effect is charming rather than tiresome and intrusive. (As in the first film, there are more Twilight Zone in-reference gags in this case, Twilight Zone The Movie (1983) and the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet segment with the demon on the wing).
The quality of animation has been upped to a considerable degree. Even though the original made a virtue of its non-realistic forms, the sequel gives the animals and the world they inhabit an enormous degree of realism, crafting the veldt scenes with an enormous beauty. The voice performances, the gags, everything comes with a consummate skill that seems like effortless ease and, indeed, everything has been put together in a tighter package than in the original.
There has been the clear determination to give each of the returning characters their own story the hypochondriac Melman finds his calling as a witch doctor, while struggling to express his love for Gloria; she is tempted by a hippo who does Barry White impressions; Alex, in a story arc that that is borrowed from The Lion King (1994), discovers that he is the heir to a wilderness kingdom and must fight a scheming pretender to the throne that seeks to unseat his father; while Marty discovers his zebra kind and finds they are all identical and even speak like him. Supporting characters from the original like the penguins and especially the granny have been brought to the fore and given more screen time. All of this is conducted with a strength that delineates the characters and allows them to emerge with great life. The result is a film that outstrips its predecessor in terms of sheer enjoyment.