aka Madagascar 2: The Crate Escape
Directors – Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath, Screenplay – Etan Coen, Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath, Producers – Mireille Sora & Mark Swift, Music/Songs – Will.I.Am. & Hans Zimmer, Visual Effects Supervisor – Philippe Gluckman, Production Design – Kendal Cronkhite-Shaindlin. Production Company – DreamWorks Animation
Ben Stiller (Alex), Chris Rock (Marty/Additional Zebras), David Schwimmer (Melman), Jada Pinkett Smith (Gloria), Sacha Baron Cohen (King Julien), Bernie Mac (Zuba), Alec Baldwin (Makunga), Tom McGrath (Skipper), Sherri Shepherd (Mom), Cedric the Entertainer (Maurice), Elsa Gabrielli (Nana), Will.I.Am. (Moto Moto), Chris Miller (Kowalski), Andy Richter (Mort), Christopher Knights (Private), Quinn Dempsey Stiller & Declan Swift (Baby Alex)
Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria plan to leave Madagascar and return to New York City. King Julien insists on coming along too. They take off in the plane that has been rebuilt and is being piloted by the penguins. However, the plane loses all fuel and falls apart in mid-air. They make a crash-landing somewhere in Africa. The group make their way to a watering hole where they meet other animals and realise they are in a reserve. Things feel strangely familiar to Alex. The lion Zuba, who is king of the animals on the reserve, discovers that Alex is his long lost son Alkmene. The scheming Makunga points out that Alex has not undergone the rite of passage to become the rightful heir to the crown. He tricks Alex into having to fight the toughest lion where Alex, who has never fought a lion before, is easily defeated. Humiliated, Zuba is forced to abdicate and accept exile with Makunga then declaring himself king. Meanwhile, Marty discovers that he is exactly the same as all the other zebras and feels upset because there is no longer anything unique about him. Melman gets the job of local witch doctor but despairs of ever explaining his feelings to Gloria. However, Gloria has started feeling the need to settle down and is tempted by the big sexy male hippo Moto Moto.
Madagascar (2005) was one of the biggest successes for DreamWorks SKG (back before the animation department had split off into its own independent company DreamWorks Animation), a hit second only to the massively popular Shrek (2001) in terms of box-office dollars. As seems to be the modern thinking with any successful animated film, DreamWorks here turned to making a sequel, reuniting most of the voice talents and creative personnel behind the first film.
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.