Not Enough Penguins

Sequelitis rears its ugly head in the lame, improbable 'Madagascar 2'

The Hollywood CGI machine has spit out yet another so-so animated product that will undoubtedly rake in large quantities of cash while anesthetizing at least three-quarters of its audience.

This time out, it's a boring sequel, as the Central Park Zoo animals take a trip from Madagascar to mainland Africa in the aptly titled Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. What we have here is a weak and mundane follow-up to the 2005 original (that wasn't all that great itself). All of the starring voices return, as do the spunky penguins. Unfortunately, some new characters are completely uninteresting and bland.

The story has a cute prelude, going back in time to show Alex the lion as a little boy playing with his pop (the late Bernie Mac). Little Alex shows his penchant for dancing, and when Dad turns his back for an alpha-male-lion challenge with bully Makunga (Alec Baldwin), Alex gets lured away by hunters. He then winds up, improbably, floating in a crate to Manhattan, where he will become a star and grow up to be Ben Stiller.

The story then jumps ahead to the point where the last film left off. Alex and buddies Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are preparing to depart Madagascar in a repaired jet piloted by--you guessed it--the wily penguins. The plane, surprise, crashes long before reaching Manhattan, and the story moves to Alex's African homeland.

While Alex's reunion with his parents is kind of sweet, the film starts going haywire with improbable circumstances. Granted, it's a cartoon, and improbable things always happen in cartoons, but sequelitis really nails this film. For instance, an old lady/bit character from the first film who Alex tussled with winds up in Africa on a nature tour. Then she becomes the leader of a ragtag crew of New Yorkers who find themselves lost in Africa; they eventually confront Alex and threaten to eat him.


Of course, the dancing lemur, Julien (voice of Sacha Baron Cohen), is overplayed, eventually threatening to drop Melman the giraffe into a volcano as a sacrifice. Meanwhile, the penguins don't get enough screen time, although a moment where chimpanzees threaten a labor strike against them is probably the film's best moment.

Alec Baldwin's character is a one-dimensional washout. Baldwin is a funny actor when his actual face is involved, but his voice alone falls flat. Schwimmer's stupid giraffe is given a subplot involving his belief that he has skin cancer, because he has a brown dot. (Ha!) He's also in love with Gloria the hippo, which opens the door to all sorts of disgusting possibilities, if you ask me.

I find Rock's zebra character a little discombobulating, because he never curses. The sound of Rock speaking for long stretches of time without one obscene word just seems strange. Go ahead and let him cuss once! PG movies allow for one F-bomb, don't they? I'd pay good money to see an animated zebra drop an F-bomb. The looks on parents' faces would be priceless.

While the movie took three years to make, it appears that it took three hours to write. The characters aren't that engaging, and there are too many subplots. A spin-off with the penguins, or a prequel with more Alex as a kid, might work better. As for this crew of characters, the premise has been played out.