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Jungle 2 Jungle

MOVIE REVIEW
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

MAD207
DreamWorks Animation

Since "Bambi" – back at the beginning of animated features – animal-centric storylines have often tended to dart around that tenuous intersection of man and wild. From the invisible hunters in Disney’s original to the more recent (yet still obscured) sport fisherman in "Finding Nemo" and commercial fishers in "Happy Feet," these films largely revolve around the tension between the unfettered animal kingdom and the human civilization that lies at its perimeters. The total inversion of this structure is a large part of the first "Madagascar" movie’s success: Rather than a story having to do with humans encroaching on animal territory, here was a film that placed the animals smack in the middle of the human world from the beginning. What’s more – they liked it like that.

Well, except for Marty (Chris Rock), a zebra with big dreams and a birthday wish that leads Central Park Zoo’s fabulous foursome out of the urban jungle and into the real one. After being shipped out of New York along with Marty, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith) find themselves shipwrecked on an exotic island populated by party-loving lemurs and bloodthirsty “foosas.” Much of the humor comes out of the gang’s near-ignorance of “real” animal life – hence the central plot twist where Alex realizes just where the steaks he loved so much back at the zoo actually come from.

"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" loses some of the cleverness and creative zest that accompanied the original concept – the cast still clicks, but the story runs a little dry. Still stuck in Africa (the nominal “escape” more accurately describes the first installment’s plot line) manage to bumble their way out of lemur-land and onto the extensive Madagascar wildlife reserve. Here, they each find groups of their own kind and start to learn a little bit more about living as part of the animal world – but not without introducing a little bit of their own New York creature cosmopolitanism into the mix, of course. Melman becomes the gangly witch doctor for the sickly giraffes, Marty teaches the zebras some of his people-friendly performance tricks, and Gloria flirts with the fattest and manliest of male hippos, Moto Moto (will.i.am).

Alex’s story makes for "Escape 2 Africa’s" centerpiece, from his unanticipated family reunion to the climatic heroic journey he undertakes on behalf of the whole reservation. But this is also where the film feels most derivative – an evil uncle and expulsion from the pride echo just a bit too strongly the story of another animated lion. Not to mention that his heroism revolves around the familiar pattern of human encroachment on animal territory. Without revealing too much of the story’s intricacies, suffice it to say that a group of stranded tourists start posing a threat to the survival of the wildlife reserve, and it’s up to Alex to save them.

But as with "Madagascar," the second installment of the franchise brings a little more than cute comedy to the table. Despite its drawbacks on the creative side of things, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" still fulfills its function as fun family entertainment – and it offers more than a few lessons about life for viewers of all ages. While the richness that comes with upsetting a storytelling standard is relegated to the original Madagascar, fans will surely find this sequel satisfying enough to forgive its more traditional animal-vs.-human bent. After all, "Bambi" is considered classic for a reason.

MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA

Opens on Nov. 7 in the United States and on Dec. 5 in Britain.

Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath; written by Etan Cohen, Mr. Darnell and Mr. McGrath; music by will.i.am and Hans Zimmer; production designer, Kendal Cronkhite; produced by Mireille Soria and Mark Swift; released by DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes. This film is rated PG.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Ben Stiller (Alex), Chris Rock (Marty), David Schwimmer (Melman), Jada Pinkett Smith (Gloria), Sacha Baron Cohen (King Julien), Cedric the Entertainer (Maurice), Andy Richter (Mort), Bernie Mac (Zuba), Sherri Shepherd (Alex’s Mom), Alec Baldwin (Makunga), Tom McGrath (Skipper), Conrad Vernon (Mason) and will.i.am (Moto Moto).

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