Madagascar Escape 2 Africa
Because Numerals in Place of Words Makes You Sound Street
By: Andrew Younger
Starring: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock
Like any young, white, middle class suburbanite, I often find myself experiencing a severe deficiency of African culture that I can co-opt as my own and reduce to utter pablum. Thankfully, the good folks at Dreamworks have done the hard work for me. Taking its rightful place in the pantheon of numerically inspired artistic achievements such as 2 Fast 2 Furious, Menace II Society, and MC Hammer’s 2 Legit 2 Quit, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is a compendium of tired African clichs hiding behind its kid movie genre instead of creating anything legitimately funny or original.
The film begins with the back story of how a young Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) was taken from his father, king of the pride Zuba (Bernie Mac), by poachers—arriving in the New York City zoo. Inexplicably, both father and son share the same Africa-shaped birthmark on their paws. Where was that paw mark in the first Madagascar? I am shocked, shocked, that a film of this caliber would introduce such a glaring continuity error in its series. My suspension of disbelief has been shattered.
Flash-forward to the end of the first movie, where our heroes find themselves standing on the tarmac of the lemur king, Julien (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen). Inexplicably once again, King Julien has a prop plane that the animals have somehow fixed up enough for them to take flight across the Mozambique Channel before crash landing in Africa. Where in Africa, you might ask? They never say and apparently it doesn’t matter. Yet, in the world’s second largest continent, Alex and company find themselves at the very watering hole of Alex’s youth.
Needless to say, a lion family reunion ensues. Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) finds acceptance amongst the zebra herd. Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) finds love. Even Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) becomes a witch doctor replete with a bone through his nose. Get it? A witch doctor? Because it’s Africa? Hilarious!
But when Makunga (Alec Baldwin), a rival to the throne, challenges Alex, he is forced to make a decision between living up to the rigidly defined masculine roles of his society and fighting or to dance the night away and risk the ire of his father. In other words, it’s the plot from Happy Feet. Will Marty maintain his individuality amongst the herd? Will Gloria find someone who appreciates her for her mind? Will Melman overcome his fears? Regardless, the answers will involve a lot of pratfalls and gratuitous dance sequences set to “I like to move it, move it.”
The fact that this movie is intended for children does not excuse the filmmakers from sloppy storytelling. Unlike other animated films, where original songs are utilized to drive a story forward, the song and dance routines serve as little more than distractions when the directors lose focus. The incredibly talented cast tries desperately to establish an emotional center in an otherwise spastic film. If you were to edit out the pointless dance routines (the kind that I previous thought twenty seasons of The Simpsons had mocked into oblivion), the rehashed scenes from the first movie (such as the recurring fight sequences between a grandmother from New York and Alex), and the unnecessary parodies of other films (like the airplane scene from Almost Famous), there would be little left. Were there any justice, this film would have been relegated to straight-to-video purgatory where it belongs. Unfortunately, as long as talking CG animals are a license to print money, we will have an entire continent’s worth of culture processed for mass-market consumption and spoon fed to a new generation of children.