Is it really almost four years since the release of the original Madagascar? It seems like only yesterday that I sat here and wrote of my experience of that film, struggling to find anything more to say than it is consistently adequate but never spectacular. Well, three and a half years have gone by and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is upon us, and while it seems like an upgrade it is for the most part a retread of familiar memes mixed with borrowed storylines.
Yes, borrowed, as in purloined, ripped off… from The Lion King of all tales! I guess when making a story of father and son lions in Africa the same thoughts must come up every time. Either that or no thought was applied to this remake at all. You decide, I can’t be bothered.
Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria are still in Madagascar partying with the lemurs led by King Julien with his sidekick Maurice. The penguins have managed to rejig an old plane crash into a craft they feel will carry them safely back to NYC, but when our four heroes, along with Julien and Maurice and the two monkeys, catch the first flight out of there, the predictable occurs and they wind up making an unexpected (to them) stop at a wildlife reserve in Africa. There they will truly experience the nature of the wild, rediscover family thought lost forever, and explore the quality of their own friendships.
Once again, voice acting is adequate, although there is a nagging sense throughout the film – at least for this viewer – that the vocalist responsible for Skipper the penguin had changed. Turns out it’s still director Tom McGrath, so that explains that mystery, and he’s joined in return performances by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sacha Baron Cohen. Although Baron Cohen again seems to be having the most fun, Pinkett Smith gets to stretch her legs a little more in this installment. (Her voice-acting legs, obviously; please keep up.) The penguins remain an entertaining diversion from the main characters and plot.
The film moves relatively slowly, in spite of its simple storyline, before becoming truly strange by exploring inter-species love in a visually striking manner. The colours of the savannah and its inhabitants are vibrant and sure to appeal to its target audience, while there are scattered musical interludes also designed to capture their attention.
It becomes clear, however, that there has been no real progression of character or story in the past three years, in spite of obvious advances in technology. Again, like its predecessor, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is fine it its way, but never shines and never even seems to flirt with capturing the imagination. One wonders how many more of these disposable computer-animated children’s films will be created in future given the decreasing time and money required to make them. Heaven help us all.Rating: