Zebra suffers sequelitis

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

“Can someone please tell the penguins to get a room?”

“Can someone please tell the penguins to get a room?”

Rated 2.0

The Hollywood CGI machine spits 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 the boring sequel routine as the Central Park zoo animals take a trip from Madagascar to 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 to begin with. All of the voices return, as do the spunky penguins. Unfortunately, some of the new characters are completely uninteresting and bland—and the returning characters feel like the end result of screenwriter desperation.

The story has a cute prelude, where we go back in time and see Alex the lion as a little cub 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 becomes a star and will grow up to be Ben Stiller.

The story then jumps ahead to where the last film left off. Alex and his 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 where improbable things always happen, but sequelitis really nails this film. For instance, an old lady/bit character from the first film that Alex tussled with winds up in Africa on a nature tour. Yeah, OK. Then she becomes the leader of a ragtag crew of New Yorkers who find themselves lost in Africa, eventually confronting Alex and threatening to eat him. Yeah … whatever.

Of course, the dancing lemur King Julien (voice of Sacha Baron Cohen) is overplayed, eventually threatening to drop Melman the giraffe into a volcano as a sacrifice. The penguins should’ve gotten more screen time, although a moment when chimpanzees threaten a labor strike against them is probably the film’s best.

While Baldwin is in the voice cast, his character is a one-dimensional wash-out. Baldwin is a funny actor when his actual face is involved, but his voice alone falls flat. David Schwimmer’s stupid giraffe guy is given a subplot involving him thinking he has skin cancer because he has a brown spot. (Bru-ha-ha-ha-ha!) He’s also in love with Gloria the hippo, which opens the door to all sorts of disgusting possibilities, if you ask me. Go ahead, ask me. You’re sure to be disgusted if you do.

I find Chris 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 plays like it took about three hours to write. The characters aren’t that engaging, and the subplots are a few too many. 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.