In the annals of necessary movie sequels, 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' probably doesn't list nearly as high as, say, 'Godfather Part II' or 'ALIENS.' The first 'Madagascar,' while a very cute and family-friendly CGI adventure, was a self-contained story that really needed no continuation (and still doesn't), but when 'Madagascar' proved to be such a hit at the global box office (eventually banking over $500 million), DreamWorks Animation concocted a follow-up anyway, and now we have 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,' a perfectly pleasant if a bit-too-perfunctory tale that doesn't quite stand tall on its own hind legs.
The story brings back the familiar characters from the original 'Madagascar,' while adding a fresh, furry face or two. The whole gang is back, including Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). This time, they find themselves accidentally stranded in Africa, after attempting to fly back home to New York (via the cleverly-titled Penguin Express airline). Once there, they join forces again with Zuba (the late Bernie Mac, in one of his final performances), but find it surprisingly hard to re-integrate into the natural order of their species and the untamed wilds of the animal kingdom.
What quickly begins to ring hollow in 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' is the lack of any emotional resonance. Granted, 'Madagascar' was hardly as deep as even the least of Pixar's efforts, it was a well-told story with some universal themes, which 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' generally lacks. I just didn't feel much weight to Alex and the gang's conflict, as they find themselves faced with actually achieving their dream of a home in Africa. Worse, what was perhaps the greatest asset of the original film -- the group dynamic of the characters that pushed along the story -- is diluted here by having most of the animals stuck in subplots that, while giving them individual arcs, feels pretty lightweight. I also found the further subplot about a group of stranded human tourists quite unnecessary, and by film's end, downright distracting.
Still, like so many animated movies these days, 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' throws so many funny lines, postmodern references and musical moments at us that it's enjoyable. Despite never being fully involved in the tale, I wasn't constantly checking my watch, either. Thankfully, unlike the disappointing 'Shrek 3,' at least 'Escape 2 Africa' finds enough of the original appeal and humanity of the characters (yes, these are technically animals, but who's keeping score?) that what they do and say remains appealing. 'Escape 2 Africa' is also quite well-drawn (er, rather, pixelated), so I never tired of simply looking at the nice exteriors and clever character animations.
Despite being thinner as a story, 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' actually defied the conventional laws of Hollywood returns and actually outgrossed its predecessor. So it seems pretty likely that a 'Madagascar 3' will soon be in the offing. That's not an entirely unwelcome proposition, but let's hope that the filmmakers take a few more risks next time out, and find something more for these fun, memorable characters to do than just riff on pop culture and do cute dances. That's enough to squeak 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' by... but just barely.
'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1). DreamWorks has done a splendid job bringing the film to high-def, with a wonderfully lush and vivid presentation.
Perhaps this is not Pixar-level animation, but 'Escape 2 Africa' boasts some very sharp and detailed characters and locations. Detail is superior, with excellent visible textures and depth to the image throughout. Colors are splendid, with just about perfect saturation and consistency. A direct-to-digital transfer, blacks are rock solid and contrast supple but not overdone. If anything, 'Escape 2 Africa' can appear too digital, with some noise and edge enhancement visible (if slight). Otherwise, this is first-rate video.
A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is provided for 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.' It's equal to the video, with lovely, immersive sound design that brings the film's animated fun to life.
Surround use is the highlight -- there is rarely a dull moment to this soundtrack. Discrete effects are pronounced and well directed in the rears, and subtle atmosphere is almost always engaged. Particularly effective is the full-bodied soundfield during action scenes, as well as a few nighttime exteriors, which truly make one feel that Africa is alive in your home theater. The rest of this studio-constructed mix is also top-notch, with deep low bass, clean highs and well-balanced dialogue. 'Escape 2 Africa' sounds great.
DreamWorks has put together a very family-friendly batch of extras for 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.' The standard DVD had two full discs of extras, which all make their way to this Blu-ray. There may not be all that much for us adults, but the target audience should be well served. (Most of the video is in full 1080 HD, too, with the same subtitle options as the main feature.)
'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' is a fun sequel, if not great. Granted, the original wasn't a classic either, so my expectations were low. In any case, families who enjoyed the first should get a kick out of this one, too. This Blu-ray is excellent, with great video, audio and tons of supplements. 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa' is worth a look.