Before I jump into a delightfully short, yet detailed review, let me tell you - I did not see Madagascar. It didn't appeal to me back when it came out in the days before this blog's existence, and even now I probably won't go back and see it. But - I absolutely loved Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Spoilers May Occur - But Not Major Ones
Written by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder) and directed by Eric Darnell (Madagascar) and Tom McGrath (Madagascar), this film tells the story of Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) growing up with his dad, Zuba (Bernie Mac). One day, Zuba turns his back and Alex is captured by poachers and sent to the New York Zoo. Then (the first movie) along with some of his friends, Alex left the zoo, went to Madagascar. Now, accidentally ending up in Africa, they need to figure out how to get back to New York as well as deal with family and personal issues along the way.
The visuals are great and stylized in a very delightful, and not distracting way, and the voice acting is pretty excellent. While the cast includes Chris Rock, Alec Baldwin, Ben Stiller, Jada-Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer, my favorite character in the film was Bernie Mac, who channeled a king as powerful as Mufasa was but with a heart that might seem even bigger. I was tremendously sad after watching the film when I came to the realization that that character will likely not be in the next installment.
This isn't a Lion King rip-off. Face it, it's pretty hard to make a movie about a pride of lions in Africa and escape similarities entirely. But DreamWorks pulls it off nicely.
The score is written by Hans Zimmer (surprise) and includes a few songs by will.i.am, who also voices the character of Moto Moto in the film. This brings me to another point. DreamWorks seems to have gotten over their ideas that an animated character needs to look like its real life counterpart. Bernie Mac doesn't sound like Bernie Mac, and will.i.am does not sound like you're watching an animated will.i.am. I have always liked the idea of actors creating voices for their characters, because it adds a lot to the film and makes each character even more authentic.
I loved the fact that you did not have to have prior knowledge of the first film to see this one. They explain the previous plot nicely in about 2 minutes and you are instantly caught up to where you should be, as any good sequel should do. All the characters are great, as is their development, and the visual gags are hilarious and simply amazing - especially since there are hardly any pop culture references (finally).
What I didn't like was the heavy inclusion of the old woman from the first movie. I thought that she was a terribly annoying and frustrating character. But every vine of gapes has a few bad ones on it, and it doesn't stop you from eating the rest of them with joy.
Remember when DreamWorks made great movies like The Prince of Egypt and Road to El Dorado? Well, Kung Fu Panda showed it and now Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa has confirmed it. Dreamworks is back on the great filmmaking track, and I have nothing but the highest hopes for their next film, Monsters vs. Aliens.