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This animated sequel is a joyous jungle of clean, capricious humor from top notch stars, but needs stronger story elements and music.

Movie Review: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

This time, more is better in a sequel. Kids will enjoy the colorful settings and memorable animal characters while adults can look forward to some clean, capricious humor from Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Sacha Baron Cohen, and the late, great Bernie Mac who provides the voice for Zuba the Lion.

The always entertaining penguin quartet plus Julien, the Lemur King (Cohen) and his right-hand man Maurice, voiced by Cedric the Entertainer, also return. Cedric deserved a much larger role, but the other actors get plenty of time to strut their stuff. Filmmakers start with a helpful prologue then break the plot into entertaining subplots. After the initial “escape”, the subplots switch among the four main characters: Alex the Lion (Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Rock), Gloria the Hippopotamus (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (voiced by David Schwimmer).

Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell both return to direct this spirited jungle fest and tackle many more large-scale sequences created by an army of gifted animators at DreamWorks. Audiences might be surprised at the fighting elements at first, but then filmmakers quickly take the bruising into Bugs Bunny territory (where no one gets hurt) that only works in animation. Screenwriter Etan Coen (Tropic Thunder) creates quick-paced dialogue to fill the story gaps as the animal characters experience Africa and its new characters.

Alec Baldwin voices the antagonist/rival lion Makunga well, but can’t really create a memorable adversary. Other new characters like Moto Moto help progress the main characters well while creature characters like the tiny Mort, maniacal monkeys and constant background gags provide even more laughs. Voice talent veteran Elisa Gabrielli gets the largest role expansion as the feisty little lady who gave “bad kitty” Alex a purse whomping at Grand Central Station in the first Madagascar film.

The enjoyable story progresses well except for a “thin” love proclamation, which won’t really affect the kids, but adults might mirror Alex and Marty’s initial reaction. Some audiences might be swayed by the end, but no real sign of this relationship was ever revealed in the first installment. Alex and Marty provide more emotion in their reconciliation than this convenient romance setup.

Coen then uses this relationship to lift a familiar “sacrifice” storyline, which starts to sour the film except he creates a hilarious comic moment immediately after this storyline begins, which even overshadows his story snafu. The film also needed more memorable music beside the “Move It” dance song. Animator create appealing visuals with a high entertainment value and positive themes on acceptance and family.

Movie fans can look for a planned third installment in this animated film series in 2011, though it will unfortunately be without the voice talent of comedian Bernie Mac to whom this film was dedicated. Also playing in IMAX theaters. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is recommended and rated PG for some fighting and mild crude humor.

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