Sequels to animated films are starting to become a hot trend. At first, Pixar and Disney strayed away from making sequels, with the exception of the Toy Story 2, but now even Pixar is coming out with Cars 2 and Toy Story 3 in the next few years. On the other hand, DreamWorks, the other major animation studio, has had no problem with making sequels of popular films like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Another film in the DreamWorks camp that they had no problem immediately green lighting a sequel to was 2005’s Madagascar. We all know the “sequel rule”, so there probably wasn’t many high hopes that Madagascar 2 would be any good, since the original film was just an average animated film. DreamWorks has already announced that Madagascar 3 is already planned for 3 or 4 years from now, so they must have liked Madagascar 2, but the real question is whether Madagascar 2 is any good or not?
Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa picks up where the first film left off. The Central Park Zoo animal friends from the first Madagascar film, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), along with the lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his assistant lemur, Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) they met on Madagascar, attempt to escape from the island of Madagascar where they were stuck. But they wind up in the middle of the African savannah. This happens when the plane carrying them is being flown by those psychotic and criminal penguins from the the first film. All of the animals then find themselves in their natural habitat, but life in captivity has made living in “the real world” difficult. Alex soon learns there’s more to being a lion in the wild than theatrically strutting about. Alex’s father, Zuba (Bernie Mac), while overjoyed to see Alex, is a little surprised to discover his son is now a dancer and lover of Broadway show tunes. Zuba is the large and powerful head of the pride, challenged only by the scheming Makunga (Alec Baldwin), a jackal of a lion. Meanwhile, Gloria finds herself romanced by the hippo version of a lothario (Will.i.am), Marty the zebra seems overjoyed when he joins a large herd of zebras, and Melman the giraffe uses his veterinary experience to become a witch doctor among the giraffes, but he is still too shy to tell Gloria about his true feelings for her.
The plot of Madagascar 2 is quite different than the original film. Instead of all of the animal friends going off on an adventure together, like in the first film, the story of this film is split up into variou smaller sub-plots. Everything seems to be doing their own thing, which is a good and bad thing. It’s good, because there are lots of funny moments jam-packed into this film involving these various secondary sub-plot. At the same time, though, there is just not enough time to devote more time to the funny sub-plots, since the main focus seems to be the storyline of Alex and his father and his father’s rival. This storyline was just not as funny nor as emotional as it was supposed to be. It was all too similar to the The Lion King, and it just didn’t fit in with the rest of film.
The voice cast is certainly filled with A-List stars once again, but this time they seem to have brought more life to the characters. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett-Smith all seemed to just be reading lines in the first film, but now it seems like they have made them their own rather than just bringing their personas to life in an animated animal character. Of course, it helps when you have better stories written for these characters this time around. Sacha Baron Cohen, as King Julien, is excellent again in a smaller role this time, as are those wacky scene-stealing penguins. Their own movie might work better as a sequel. But new additions to the cast, Alec Baldwin and Bernie Mac, voice their roles near flawlessly as well. Too bad their characters are given a weak storyline.
The pop references were kept to a minimum in Madagascar 2, which might disappoint some adults who enjoy that type of humor in these kinds of films. But unlike the original Madagascar, there seems to be a better message for kids with themes of friendship, togetherness and family running throughout this film. Madagascar 2 also seems to be more of a kid-friendly animated comedy, with jokes and gags that aren’t likely to go over the heads of children. The animation has also improved as well, so there is a beautiful backdrop to the almost break-neck speed of jokes and stories getting thrown at you. While there seems to be a lot going on here, the stories that are getting told are more interesting than the ones that were told in the first film. In the end, Madagascar 2 is one of the better sequels out there as it basically proves the “sequel rule” by being a rare exception to it. That doesn’t mean that Madagascar 2 is better than the original Shrek or a fantastic animated film like Finding Nemo, but it is still a slightly above-average entertaining film for the whole family, and that is all it really needs to be.
The video is presented in 1080p/AVC at the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen color ratio, which is enhanced for 16:9 TVs of course. This transfer is fantasic. Everything looks crystal clear and the colors are vibrant and rich. There is hardly anything to complain about here as the improved animation from Dreamworks is presented beautifully here.
The audio included is available in either English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround sound, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound, French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in English, French, and Spanish as well. The dialogue and music come out loud, and the overall audio quality is pretty much on par with the visual quality. No major problems here either.
“The Animators’ Corner” Feature –
This is an option to view with the film with picture-in-picture turned on. In a smaller picture, you can listen to interviews and look at storyboards, among other things. Pretty cool, if you don’t want to have to seek out all of the “behind-the-scenes” stuff.
Trivia Track –
You can watch the film with this feature on and little boxes will pop up onto the screen during specific scenes to give you information about making the film and other fun facts about the film.
Found on the Single Disc, Standard Edition As Well…
Audio Commentary – There is a full-length commentary from the directors of the film, Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell, and producers, Mireille Soria and Mark Swift. There is a lot of information given in this commentary, but it’s not very entertaining to listen to. Again, about as good as you can expect without any of the voice cast involved in it.
“It’s a Family Affair: The Cast of Escape 2 Africa” Featurette –
This runs 9 minutes and it’s your standard promotional piece where you can see most of the cast behind the microphone as they lend their voices to this film. Not that interesting really.
“The Making of Escape 2 Africa” Featurette –
This runs 11 minutes and it’s more of your standard, fluffy “making of” featurette. We hear from the cast and crew as they talk about making this film. Some interesting technical items are discussed here.
“Crash Landing” Featurette –
This runs 3 and 1/2 minutes and it takes the crash scene from the film, and gives you the process from storyboards to final animation for it. Fairly fascinating, if you want to know more about this process.
“African Adventure” Featurette –
This runs 7 minutes and it discusses the authenticity of the film. Studio mogul, Jeffrey Katzenberg, insisted the filmmakers take an African scouting trip to assist the storytelling potential, so that is pretty intriguing to learn about.
“Jambo Jambo: Swahili Speak” Featurette –
This is a 2 minute overview of basic Swahili words and phrases. Practice before you go to Africa yourself!
“Test Flight of Air Penguin” Game –
This interactive game puts the viewer into the cockpit with the penguins as they try to stay in the air using makeshift flying devices. This takes forever to play, but it should be fun for kids if they have the time.
“Mad Music” Montage –
This is a mix of short music videos and karaoke challenges promoting the film’s soundtrack. Songs included are “She Loves Me,” “Move It, Move It,” “Big and Chunky,” and “The Traveling Song”.
Video Jukebox –
Like every other DreamWorks release, there is a Video Jukebox of songs from this animated film as well as other DreamWorks animated films.
NOTE: ALL THE EXTRAS IN THIS SECTION ARE ON BOTH THE BLU-RAY DVD VERSION OF THIS FILM AND ALSO ON THE SPECIAL EDITION, “MOVE IT, MOVE IT, DOUBLE DVD PACK”, OF THIS FILM THAT HAD THE COMPANION DISC, NICK PENGUINS. NONE OF THIS IS ON THE SINGLE DISC VERSION OF THIS FILM, THOUGH, SO THAT MAKES THIS SECTION SOMEWHAT OF AN EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY.
“Penguins of Madagascar” Animated Short –
There are two 12 minute episodes from the upcoming Nickelodeon series, The Penguins of Madagascar, included on this Blu-ray set. The two episodes included here are called “Popcorn Panic” and “Gone in a Flash”. Honestly, these are not as funny as you might think. Some of the voices of the penguins aren’t as good as the ones in the films. But if you REALLY love these characters, you will probably enjoy these episodes and upcoming series. Just don’t expect non-stop laughter from them.
“Alex’s Dance Off” Featurette –
This runs 3 minutes and it takes you through the Alex’s zany and plentiful dance moves, isolating a few for the viewer at home to try. Again, harmless fun for the kids.
“The Heart of a Lion” Featurette – This runs 12 minutes and it’s an educational featurette on actual lions. It discusses their behavioral patterns and daily business. Good nature lesson for the kids
“The Bronx Zoo: Madagascar” Featurette – This runs 8 minutes and we talk with the director of The Bronx Zoo, Jim Breheny. He takes the viewer through the new Madagascar exhibit at his zoo. A discussion of animal behavior and defense mechanisms ensues. Fun to watch as well.
There is a series of PC-based distractions (coloring, video game demos, etc.) for younger viewers.
Madagascar 2 is definitely worth a rental, if you enjoyed the first film or if you are a fan of these types of films in general. Can’t really recommend a purchase for everyone, though; but it’s definitely a fun animated film that’s a slight improvement over the original and it will entertain the whole family.
Dreamworks Studios Home Entertainment presents Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa. Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath. Written by Etan Cohen. Starring Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alec Baldwin, Bernie Mac, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, and Andy Richter. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: February 6, 2009.
Available at Amazon.com