Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Day 363 - 12/29/09 - Movie #363

BEFORE: Perhaps it wasn't the best plan to watch those long WWII movies during the busy Christmas season, because now that I have some extra time, I'm watching these shorter animated features. Oh, well, I'm going to finish the year on track, and that's all that matters in the end.

THE PLOT: New York Zoo animals Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo, still stranded on Madagascar, start to leave the island - but they land in the wilderness of Africa, where Alex meets the rest of his family.

AFTER: Jeez, has it already been 11 months since I watched "Madagascar"? In some ways, the year has flown by, but in other ways it's also felt very long indeed.

The first movie saw these four zoo animals making their way to the title island, and in the sequel they try to return to New York, but only make it as far as mainland Africa. Wouldn't you know, they crash-land right near the wildlife preserve where Alex (Ben Stiller) was born - hey, it's not like Africa is a giant continent or anything... They meet his father, Zuba (Bernie Mac), and his mom, Mom (Sherri Shepherd) and also his father's rival, Makunga (Alec Baldwin). I wish I knew enough about "The Lion King" to spot any parody references. (yeah, I know, it's on the list...)

The other zoo animals encounter difficulties fitting in as well - Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) finds out what it's like to be part of a herd for the first time, Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) becomes a sort of witch doctor to the other giraffes, and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) explores the perils of dating a chubby chaser.

The other popular characters are back from the first film also, like the lemur king (Sacha Baron Cohen) and the penguins (who also have a spin-off TV show) but it seems like they're just given odd jobs to keep them busy while the main characters have their personal encounters, and also solve the mystery of the disappearing water hole. I will say that the plot is very tight - all of the major actions have repercussions which become important later, and everything that comes around goes around.

I don't know if they're planning another sequel or not (in addition to the Christmas special that aired earlier this month) but the plot's wide open for it. The jury's still out on whether zoos are "good" or "bad", according to this franchise, or whether animals should be left alone on the African plains. Both environments seem to have their pros and cons - basic needs are attended to in the zoo, plus the animals are stars there - but out in the wild, they're with their own kind and seem to "fit in" in a more social way. Instead of tackling these issues, this film would rather show a long slugfest between a Yiddish grandma on safari and a lion - not really sure what the take-away message is there...

But thank God these animated movies finally stopped listing "Production Babies" in the credits. No one at home cares that someone managed to work on an animated film AND reproduce at the same time...anyway, those kids are probably neglected since Daddy (or Mommy) spends so much time crunching pixels at the Disney or Dreamworks cartoon factory. If that seems mean-spirited, let me point out that I spent 3 years at film school and 5 years in the music-video trenches before I got my name in the credits of an animated feature, and all those kids do is get born - it's just not fair.

Also starring the voices of Andy Richter, Cedric the Entertainer, Harland Williams, and Fergie and Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas. And one of the penguins is voiced by Chris Miller, director of "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs", who also used to be an intern at one of my jobs. So that's tonight's personal connection...(the animation community is like that, everyone seems to know everyone else)

RATING: 6 out of 10 parachutes


  1. While it was a decent film, I never found any of the main characters really caught my interest, maybe too many stars and not enough power.

    I find the TV series to be much more entertaining than the films.

    Have you seen "Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs" yet? What is your take on that?

  2. I haven't seen "Cloudy w/Meatballs" yet - I only went to the movie theater twice this year, almost everything's been viewed at home. The boss had an Academy screener of that film, but I wasn't able to see it - anyway, some of the screeners only work on special Academy-provided DVD players now, to prevent piracy...