November 6, 2008


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Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (PG)
The lion, zebra, hippo and giraffe (plus the penguins, monkeys and lemurs) from the first Madagascar attempt to make their way back to New York City and wind up only slightly closer in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, a movie that will have your kids singing that “I like to move it, move it” song for what will feel like an eternity.

My 8-year-old stepson has been singing it for weeks and he hasn’t even seen the movie yet. Some combination of the beat, the simple lyrics and the fact that most of the dancing is being done by a lemur makes that song the “Macarena” of the elementary school set.

Be warned, though, if it’s younger kids trying to get you to go to this movie — the song appears for only a minute or so early in the movie and then again over the ending credits. In between are a lot of animals talking and (for the younger — I’d guess 3- to 5-year-old — kids in the theater where I saw the movie) a lot of audience members squirming and going to the bathroom.

The movie catches us up on how Alex (Ben Stiller) the show boating lion, Marty (Chris Rock) the mid-life-crisis-having zebra, Melman (David Schwimmer) the hypochondriac giraffe and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) the looking-for-love hippo (along with some thuggish penguins and some smartypants monkeys) all ended up on the island of Madagascar. We also get a little backstory on Alex; it seems before he was the zoo celebrity — the King of New York — he was the son of Zuba (Bernie Mac), the king of the game preserve in Africa. When only a mere cub, Alex was lured off the preserve by hunters and then wound up in New York City. When the now Madagascar-stranded gang tries to head back to Manhattan in the penguin-engineered crashed airplane, they wind up crashing into that same preserve.

We get shades of Lion King with a rivalry between Zuba and alpha-lion-wannabe Makunga (Alec Baldwin) and, as with the previous movie, the friends face some squabbling over various “you don’t understand me”-type issues. Comic relief of the broad variety comes from the lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his assistant Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and from the penguins, though some of their scenes are a little more fast-talking and oddball than the always-moving goofiness of Julien.

And, for me and the other adults in the audience, the comedy doesn’t stop there. I laughed several times — over Melman’s shy love for Gloria, Marty’s discovery (and eventual depression about) the fact that all zebras are exactly like him, the difference between the entertainment king that Alex is and the fighting king that his parents think he is and asides between Zuba and Alex’s mother (Sherri Shepherd) that all seemed to start with a sotto voce “look, woman.” I found a lot of this very cute, very amusing. I also found that I was turning sideways in my seat a lot as some younger moviegoer and parent was slipping out to do whatever little errand the bored kid had suggested. I remember feeling the same way about the first movie — that some of this New York City referential humor was a little too old for the target audience. And though I welcome it, parents won’t get a chance to be entertained if the kids are bored.

If the slower moments seemed to lose the kids, however, the kids did seem to get into the fast and furious moments of silliness. The movie features scenes with scores of monkeys, an attempt by King Julien to lead a volcano sacrifice and several moments of penguin absurdity (though, for example, scenes of penguin managers dealing with representatives from monkey labor seemed more tailored to me than to the kids in the audience). And despite what I thought about the first movie, it grew on me through subsequent viewings and when my test subject finally did see it (at about 7 years old, I think) he thoroughly enjoyed it.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is fun — probably more fun the older you are. Though the youngest kids might find themselves fidgeting, older elementary school kids and (thankfully for us) their parents will be more entertained than not. B

Rated PG for some mild crude humor. Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath and written by Ethan Cohen, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is an hour and 29 minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, Nov. 7. It is distributed by DreamWorks, Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures.