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Blu-ray Review: Madagascar 2 – Escape 2 Africa

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Why is it that every time you have a blockbuster movie, the studio needs to go and make a sequel? When was the last time a sequel was nearly as good as the first? With the sole exception of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, animated movies have never really created good sequels. Shrek 2 was okay, but the third was terrible. Then look at Disney, with all of their straight-to-DVD spin-offs — are any of those good? DreamWorks is like every other company in Hollywood; they are trying to milk as much out of the same story elements as possible. Guess what? Just like most other sequels, this one falls flat.

Madagascar 2 tells the story of four friends who are trying to head back to New York after escaping from it in the first movie. Why they wish to go back we are never told, but I assume that free and easy food has something to do with it. They leave the island of Madagascar on a broken down airplane piloted by some interesting penguins and promptly crash in the savannas of Africa. There they encounter other creatures just like them and they start to question themselves. Don't worry, the movie doesn't get too existential; it would lose its primary audience if it did.

This posse is led by the charismatic Alex, King of New York, a lion with a dancing problem, who is voiced by Ben Stiller. The trusty best friend role is played by Marty, a zebra that is black with white stripes, who is voiced by Chris Rock. The role of comic sidekick is split between a fat hippo, Gloria, who is voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith, and a hypochondriac giraffe, Melman, voiced by David Schwimmer.

While three of the four main characters are voiced by super-stars, the movie has a host of other stars voicing the minor characters. Sacha Baron Cohen is Julien, an annoying little rodent of some sort. Cedric the Entertainer voices Maurice, and his buddy, the late Bernie Mac, voices Zuba. The final big name voice actor is Alec Baldwin, who portrays Makunga. While this list of stars makes it seem as though Madagascar 2 would be a good movie, it isn't. This is a perfect example of how movies can give great actors some crappy roles that even they can not overcome. The script has flaws, the plot is full of holes, and the story is shoddy at some moments. Very few actors can overcome problems like this, and not even Stiller or Rock can climb out of the holes.

You know that there is something wrong with a movie if it starts to look towards its bit characters for support. Sure, bit characters are always worthy of a laugh or two, but they rarely should become main characters or be needed to carry the story. In Madagascar 2, the penguins (what species are they, anyway?) and the old lady need to step in and carry the story. Both of these characters, while funny, should never have left their bit character locations and really do little to add to the story. They are needed plot elements, but they are relied on far too much. This is an indication of how poorly conceived Madagascar 2 is.

Don't get me wrong, Madagascar 2 doesn't do everything badly. In fact, the animation is exceptionally well done. Though it is not of Pixar caliber, the CG in Madagascar 2 shows very few problems and looks good. The grass sways realistically, the manes hang freely as they should, and the few pratfalls that happen followed proper physics. Overall, the animation is exceptionally good and this is easily one of the better animated movies of the year. On a side note, there is a phrase used in plays and movies: if a pistol goes off in the third act, you had better show it in the first. The animators should have paid attention to this phrase, as they focus on Marty's rear in the early movie and it looks distinctly different than it does at the end. This sort of slip-up is easy to make, but it shows a lack of attention to detail.

Speaking of how the movie looks, let's move onto the technical aspects of this Blu-ray release. Madagascar 2 is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is your typical wide screen format. The film is clear and precise, with all scenes looking crisp and rendered well. There is very little ghosting during the fast movement scenes (which is to be expected from CG) and the animation looks good on my TV. I was unable to discern any visual problems with the movie and it looked absolutely stunning.

The colors are vibrant and they capture one's attention. The physics behind the motion, which the artists seemed to work on, are displayed well as you can see each individual strand of hair move in Alex's mane. Though there are only a few areas during the movie that include black levels, they are all reproduced well. One of the best scenes on the Blu-ray is when the plane is crashing back into Africa. The smoke billows realistically and the colors and contrasts look properly done. 

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD. The sound is available in the normal 5.1 channels. The overall sound quality is above average and the mixing is superb. Rarely is any background sound or piece of dialog lost during the movie. Save for a few scenes where the background music gets a bit too loud, the movie is easy to understand and the sound is put together well.

Madagascar 2 on Blu-ray comes with the normal extras. There is a director's commentary track, as well as two featurettes. For some reason, they chose to label an additional seven extras as vignettes, but they are essentially the same as the featurettes. There are also a few music videos to complete the selection. Overall, I do not think that many of the extras from Madagascar 2 are a deal maker over the normal DVD version of the movie. That said, on the Blu-ray version there is a special commentary from the animators which is interesting to watch. I usually do not like commentaries, but any from animators always interest me, as I find what they do fascinating. While the extras were rather useless and boring to me, I am sure that they would be appreciated by any younger person watching this movie.

Overall, I feel that Madagascar 2 is a movie to add to your collection only if you have young ones of your own or that come over often. The movie is sure to entertain them and keep them out of you hair for an hour and a half. Though the movie stumbles and the plot has holes, the quality of the animation make it worth it to purchase Madagascar 2 on Blu-ray, if you buy it at all.

Movie: The plot has holes and the story is dull.
Blu-ray Quality: Colors, black levels, and vibrancy are suburb.
Sound Quality: Good mixing and quality.
Extras: Typical extras, but could be exciting for kids.
Overall: A good movie for those with kids, but nobody else.

Madagascar 2 is rated PG for some mild crude humor.

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About Robert M. Barga