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Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/6/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/12/2009

I've been a movie fan for as long as I can remember, and I love seeing movies in the theater. Even when I felt that I was being "dragged" to see something, I would get excited. There's just something about the big screen, the sound, and the darkness which makes the theater-going experience such a thrill. Due to this enthusiasm, I could never understand how anyone could fall asleep at the movies (especially with today's loud sounds!). And yet, I've been to the theater several times where my companion would doze off. This had never happened to me until I saw Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa in the theater. I fought hard, but I nodded off a few times. But, I wasn't sure if it was the movie, or because I'd had a hard day/was under the weather. Thus, I was looking forward to catching the movie on DVD so that I could decide what had put me in that state.

When we last left the escapees from New York -- Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (voiced by Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the Giraffe (voiced by David Schwimmer) -- they were getting settled into life on Madagascar, where they had become stranded along with a group insane penguins from their zoo. But, as Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa opens, the group is embarking on a plan to get back to New York. The penguins have jury-rigged the crashed plane found on the island, hoping that it will carry them back to the States. As the group boards the plane, lemur King Julien (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen) and his sidekick, Maurice (voiced by Cedric the Entertainer), announce that they are coming along. The launch is successful and the animals are glad to be on their way. Unfortunately, the penguins don't really grasp fuel, and the plane crash-lands in Africa. The group is fascinated by the site of large groups of animals from their own species. Alex feels an odd familiarity towards the location and when he meets the local pride leader, Zuba (voiced by Bernie Mac) and his wife (Sherri Shepherd), he learns why. He was born here and they are his parents. The joyous reunion is short-lived however, as the scheming Makunga (voiced by Alec Baldwin), attempts to have Alex removed from the pride. Meanwhile, Marty, Gloria, and Melman are interacting with their brethren and learning that life in the wild may not be as wild as they'd imagined.

In my review for Kung Fu Panda, I wrote that I'd never been crazy about movies from Dreamworks Animation until the release of that film. The original Madagascar had been all right, but the movie really fell apart in the second half. (I know that I've seen that movie at least twice, and I can only give you a thumbnail sketch of what occurs in the third act.) Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa fares no better, and comes across as painstakingly mediocre.

One thing that I typically don't like about Dreamworks' films is how they tout the vocal talent as opposed to the animation. However, the actors in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa are the best part of the movie. Having worked together on the first film, the actors providing the voices have a good handle on their characters and the movie contains some great lines. (And we learn from the audio commentary that many of these are ad-libbed.) Stiller is great as the neurotic Alex, and, surprisingly, Melman is less annoying in this outing. I know that many find Sacha Baron Cohen abrasive, but King Julien's schtick about the volcano sacrifice is probably the funniest moment in the film. (Actually, my favorite joke involves a penguin and a weapon which I'm really surprised that they showed in a family movie.)

It's good that the actors are having a blast here, because the story leaves a lot to be desired. The plot where a lion with dark hair tricks the son of the pride-leader feels very similar to a certain famous Disney animated film. If the makers of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa thought that viewers wouldn't see the parallels between this story and The Lion King, they were sorely mistaken. (Or assuming that their target audience hadn't seen it.) Marty, Melman, and Gloria's encounters with other animals like them is sort of interesting, but it's also too shallow. Do all zebras think alike? Why are giraffes hypochondriacs? I realize that this is a children's movie, but the writers could have dug a little deeper. And the fact that male hippos only like female hippos because they're fat is odd and sends a strange message. And what's up with that violent old lady? I can't believe that she's the lynchpin of this movie.

Well, I managed to stay awake while watching Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa on DVD, but I still wasn't overly impressed by what I saw. The animation is very good and it's clear that a lot of work went into the landscape shots. However, this is the kind of film which I would have enjoyed a lot more if someone could have simply edited it down to the funny lines. Maybe Madagascar 3 will be able to offer comedy and some substance.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa crash lands on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. I have to assume that this was a digital-to-digital transfer, as the image looks fantastic. The colors are bold and the picture shows a very nice amount of depth. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track brings us good stereo effects and nicely placed surround sound effects during some of the action scenes. These scenes also bring in some mild, but effective subwoofer. The in-film music (while annoying) sounds fine.

The Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa DVD contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Directors/Co-Writers Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath and Producers Mireille Soria and Mark Swift. This is a good commentary, as they take the time to point out the more complicated shots and they compliment the animators who worked on those scenes. They also discuss some changes made to the script and give us tidbits of what could have been. We also learn which lines were ad-libbed. "It's a Family Affair: The Cast of Escape 2 Africa" (9 minutes) profiles Stiller, Pinkett-Smith, Schwimmer, Rock, Andy Richter, Cedric the Entertainer, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Tom McGrath, Alec Baldwin, Will.I.Am, and Bernie Mac, and we get a great deal of footage of the actors recording their dialogue. "The Making of Escape 2 Africa" (11 minutes) contains comments from the filmmakers who discuss their inspirations for the film and the trip which they took to Africa for ideas. They then talk about the challenge of re-creating Africa and animating the characters. There is also a discussion of the music with Hans Zimmer and Will.I.Am. We get storyboards of the plane scene, as well as a discussion of how the scene was designed in "Crash Landing" (4 minutes). "African Adventure" (7 minutes) brings us footage from the filmmakers journey to Africa for reference material. "Jambo Jambo: Swahili Speak" is a tutorial in the native African language. "Mad Music" offers music videos for the songs "Move It, Move It", "Big and Chunky", "She Loves Me" and "Traveling Song". "Test Flight of Air Penguin" is a set-top game.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa can be purchased in a set which contains a second DVD entitled "The Penguins of Madagascar". This contains two episodes of "The Penguins of Madagascar" ("Popcorn Panic" and "Gone in a Flash"), which is an upcoming show on Nickelodeon. It also contains some extras. "The Heart of a Lion" (12 minutes) is a brief documenatry on the lives of lions in Arfica. "The Bronx Zoo: Madagascar" (8 minutes) takes us on a tour of the actual Madagascar exhibit at The Bronx Zoo. "Alex's Dance Off" (3 minutes) shows viewers how to dance like their favorite lion.

Paramount Home Entertainment has also brought Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa to Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. If you're going to see Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, then this is the way to do it. The image is practically flawless. The picture is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects. The colors are bold and bright, while never being oversaturated. The depth on the image is incredible and I felt that I could step into it. The Disc includes a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio isn't as impressive as the video, but it's still good. The stereo effects are very good, most notably during the watering-hole scenes. These effects are detailed and bring forth some subtle sounds. The surround effects are nicely done, especially during the finale. The "Move it, Move it" song delivers excellent bass.

The Blu-ray Disc contains all of the extras found on the DVD, plus "The Penguins of Madagascar" shorts (and "The Bronx Zoo" extra). The Blu-ray also contains two extras which the viewer can choose to activate while watching the movie. "The Animators' Corner" delivers interviews and storyboards via picture-in-picture. "Trivia Track" brings us information in a "pop-up" style.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long