In 2005 in the original Madagascar, a quartet of Central Park Zoo animals found themselves loose in the streets of New York. In rather short order they found themselves captured, crated, and on a ship bound for the African continent. However, while en route to their final destination, the actions of a group of crafty penguins resulted in the foursome knocked overboard. They somehow floated around the southern tip of the continent and back up into the Indian Ocean where they arrived on the African island of Madagascar. They found themselves amongst a tribe of fun-loving lemurs and they settled in to make a new life for themselves.
That brings us to 2008 and the new film. The gang, again with the help of the penguins, has now found a possible way home in the form of an old airplane that has been renovated and hooked to a slingshot. Sounds like a perfectly safe way to fly, no?
The goal of the slingshot flight is to get everyone back to New York so they can resume their lives providing fine family entertainment to anyone who happens to step through the zoo gates. Problems begin early in the film when the flight crash lands on the African savanna. This begs the question about the title. The sub-title is Escape 2 Africa, but they were already in Africa. I guess the producers consulted Sarah Palin for title ideas. Oh, I kid, I kid, no harm meant. Still, they don't escape to Africa so much as they crash in a different part Africa. I guess it doesn't really matter, it has no real effect on the path of the story.
As the film opens, we are first treated to a moment ripped straight from The Lion King, chronicling just how Alex came to be at the zoo. This leads directly into the flight sequence mentioned earlier. Once on the African mainland the plot begins to fragment as each of the four primary characters get their own story threads. In addition to their stories, we also get minor threads for the penguins and King Julien, further adding to the plot fragmentation.
Each thread succeeds to varying degrees, although they all feel a little shortchanged in the final weaving, meaning that while the whole story is there it is not terribly satisfying. The main thread concerns Alex (Ben Stiller) as he reunites with his family and attempts to become a full member of the pride. His homecoming is threatened by Makunga (Alec Baldwin), his uncle, filling the The Lion King role of Scar. The story forces Alex to confront the fact that life in the zoo has never allowed him to develop the survival skills necessary for the savanna.
Alex's story winds closest to Marty (Chris Rock) the zebra's. Marty has always prided himself on his individuality, a notion that is threatened by his discovery in Africa that all zebras act and look the same way. This is played up when Alex cannot differentiate his best friend from a crowd of other zebras. Meanwhile, Melman (David Schwimmer) the giraffe is faced with dealing with his neuroses without the aid of a doctor. His ability to work through these issues ties in with his quiet pining for Gloria (Jada Pinkett-Smith) the hippo, in an unlikely cross-species romance. Gloria also has her own adventure as she interacts with other hippos for the first time.
There is a lot going on and with the short length of the film, none of the stories are developed all that fully. It does have a few humorous moments that are worth keeping an eye out for. I particularly like the reference to Stiller's Meet the Parents. I also liked an early moment spoofing the stringent security measures at airports — it may just be the funniest line in the film. Of course, the funny moments are tempered by the overuse of the elderly woman who incessantly beats up on the bad kitties.
Bottom line. The movie is entertaining enough; it is bright, colorful, and quickly paced. There are few moments where boredom threatens to kick in. This is not a movie that breaks any new ground, but it doesn't need to. It is a safe film that is what it is, fun, fast, and good for the kids. Sit back and enjoy the ride; just don't expect another Kung Fu Panda.