Starring: The voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alec Baldwin, Bernie Mac. Rated
There is an audience for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, a very young audience not yet capable of
discriminating between disposable larks like this one and the smarter, more
sophisticated storytelling of WALL*E,
Kung-Fu Panda and The
SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Perhaps that
makes me the wrong person to review this movie. I could, as Roger Ebert did in
his review of Sex and the City,
disqualify myself from the start by professing a basic lack of interest. But
that would be misleading.
I headed into DreamWorks Animation’s Escape 2 Africa ready
to be entertained and, it must be noted,
entirely unfamiliar with the popular children’s comedy that inspired it. I
settled into my seat for an IMAX screening – always a plus – surrounded by a
raucous crowd of kids whose excitement was far louder at least than my own. The
lights dimmed, and I sat back, waiting for the theater to be filled with
laughter. And, for the most part, I kept waiting.
For the uninitiated, Madagascar and its sequel follow the continuing
of Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), a feisty lion with a flair for the theatrical.
He’s a song-and-dance man – er, lion – raised in the New York Zoo, where
adoring visitors cheer on his acrobatic flips and graceful twirls. While not
exactly a coward, Alex isn’t suited to life in the jungle. He’s accustomed to
prepared meals and manmade habitats, and if he seems a bit of a fancy lad,
there’s a reason.
He’s not alone. In both movies, Alex and his friends –
Melvin the neurotic giraffe (an endearing David Schwimmer), Marty the
trash-talking zebra (Chris Rock) and a proudly Rubensesque hippo named Gloria
(Jada Pinkett Smith) – find themselves fish out of water when they’re
unceremoniously dumped in the African wilderness. This time, Alex is reunited
with his alpha-lion father (Bernie Mac) and quickly embroiled in a Lion King-style
plot to prove himself worthy of the family
mane. Meanwhile, Melvin makes big, droopy eyes at Gloria and mulls the
likelihood of an interspecies romance.
Escape 2 Africa boasts
far too many characters and silly, inconsequential subplots to warrant mention
here, save to say that the least appealing of the lot involves a group of New
York tourists stranded in the jungle and led by a little old lady who
moonlights as an aggressively unpleasant lion tamer. There are a few laughs,
courtesy of some exquisitely erudite monkeys and King Julien (Sacha Baron
Cohen, of Borat), a
self-aggrandizing lemur who comes off as a pint-sized parody of Dubya. But this
isn’t a movie concerned with engaging hearts and minds so much as lazily
bombarding the ears with Top 40 sing-alongs.
The animation seems a bit crude in comparison with the
brilliantly lifelike artistry DreamWorks invested in last year’s Shrek the
Third, but the movie is colorful enough to
succeed as sheer spectacle, especially when blown up to IMAX proportions.
Beyond that, its shortcomings are many, and may be obvious even to a