Screenwriters: Etan Cohen
Starring: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Bernie Mac
Running Time: 89 mins
You'd be hard pushed to find anyone who claims the first Madagascar movie is among the favourites in their DVD collection. Despite featuring a stellar cast of some of the world's most reliable funnymen, the jungle caper didn't quite hit the spot when it came to laughs or adventure. A reasonable box office return meant a sequel was always likely to be in the offing, but sadly the follow-up has failed to amend the faults that made the original so easily forgettable.
After kicking off with a confusing and poorly edited sequence of flashbacks, we find the movie's four leads - Alex the dancing Lion (Stiller), Marty the wise-cracking zebra (Rock), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (Schwimmer), and Gloria the bootylicious hippo (Pinkett-Smith) - ready to fly back from Madagascar to their home at Central Park Zoo. Unfortunately, their flight home, which is organised by a team of high-fiving penguins, only makes it as far as the wilderness of Africa.
The lack of a strong central story arc is the primary problem with this amiable animated comedy. A heavily Lion King-inspired backstory surrounding Alex’s jungle heritage is given the most screen time, but it's impossible to achieve any emotional attachment with the events because of the endless sub-plots. The late Bernie Mac and Alex Baldwin do their best to breathe life into the action as Alex's father and the evil Makunga, but Stiller's body-popping cat is not lovable enough for us to be rooting for him as he attempts to win his rightful place in the lion tribe.
A shoe-horned love triangle between Melman, Gloria and super-sized hippo Moto Moto (will.i.am), and the journey of a tribe of lost New York tourists led by a handbag-wielding granny are both unnecessary additions to the plot, which ensure the film can never break free from its mildly amusing premise and raise genuine chuckles. Sacha Baron Cohen's nutty King Julien and penguin Skipper (McGrath) steal all the film's best scenes, but it's incredibly frustrating that the writers, who could find time to write such surreal and Python-esque scenes as a team of penguins holding strike talks with a workforce of monkeys over maternity leave, fail to produce any laughs for Stiller or Rock throughout the entire picture.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is an adequate sequel, but nothing more than that. While the movie's star names and cuddly characters will ensure plenty of bums on seats, it doesn't stand up to the likes of Shrek, WALL-E or Kung Fu Panda, which have raised the bar for animated features. A third movie in the franchise is a distinct possibility (Madagascar: In The UK?), but with the slapdash script, weak gags and serious lack of characterisation involved here, it is difficult to see why anyone would bother.