“Madagascar 2: Escape from Africa” is a clever and family-friendly sequel starring the same lovable gang from Central Park Zoo. The crew - Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman (David Schwimmer) - leave Madagascar thanks to the help of four eccentric penguins and find themselves stranded on an African Wildlife Preserve.
The four friends are welcomed into the wild and quickly settle among creatures of their own species. Alex the lion catches up with long-lost family, Gloria the hippo finds a new love interest, Marty the zebra meets other friends with stripes and Melman the giraffe becomes the preserve’s new witch doctor. Each character faces life-changing experiences but is able to cope with the help of their fellow zoo friends.
This witty sequel has trouble sticking to one central plot and hops quickly between the fast-paced adventures of each character. The script appears to be structured in this manner to grant every well-known actor his or her moment in the spotlight. Despite having multiple plots, the movie thrives because of each actor’s unique sense of humor and his or her ability to appeal to both younger and older audiences. The goofy animals will entrance kids while their parents will enjoy guessing the famous voice behind each lovable character.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, the hyper and egotistical King Julien XIII, blends perfectly with the laid back attitude of his assistant Maurice, played by Cedric the Entertainer. Baron Cohen’s humor lives up to his stellar performance in the first film, as he thrives in playing a weird, obnoxious but utterly hilarious lemur king who travels by flamingo, wears a crown sporting a live iguana and refers to his inferiors as freaks and pansies.
The movie’s African landscapes and animals from every circle of life paint a portrait remarkably similar to Disney’s “The Lion King.” There is even an evil lion named Makunga (Alec Baldwin) who challenges the pride’s leader, Zuma (Bernie Mac), to take his place as king of the herd. To steer the film away from becoming a Disney reproduction, Dreamworks replaces warthogs and hyenas with quirky lemurs, intelligent monkeys and angry New Yorkers.
One nostalgic similarity between the sequel and the original is the techno/reggae song “I Like to Move It Move It,” which prompts the characters to vigorously shake their booties on the savannah. The film is not as innocent and believable as the first “Madagascar,” but it shines thanks to an all-star cast and memorable characters.