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Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Review

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Attempting to reach home, the quartet of New York zoo animals and assorted hangers-on crash-land on the African mainland. As the wily penguins set about another escape plan, Alex the lion (Stiller) re-discovers his heritage...

★★★★★

You may recall Alex as the leonine variation of Ben Stiller’s road-tested neurotic New Yorker schtick: a motor-mouthed CG dumbkopf discombobulated by the call of the wild. His first adventure was a Looney-Tuned about-face: critters with human foibles crave the sanctity of their zoo-life when confronted by nature’s party animals. It was lightly knowing and refreshingly silly by contrast to the grandeur of Pixar, slyly deconstructing the nutty fixtures of modern living.

The inevitable sequel plonks the furry gasbag into the bosom of his family. Centred around a species-cluttered watering hole (the Columbus Circle of the Serengeti), his long-lost pop Zuba (Bernie Mac) runs a factitious pride, while his sneaky Uncle Makunga (Alec Baldwin) is oiling a take-over, leaving self-obsessed junior to stop preening and get busy being an alpha male. It doesn’t take Einstein to realise this is about to get all Woody Allen on The Lion King’s ass. Out go the identity crises and homesickness of part one, in come facing your responsibilities and some dad issues.

Despite cheering blasts of prog-rock, a chimpanzee pay dispute, a spectacular penguin-manned plane crash, and a great gag about zebra herd mentality (that they are all voiced by Chris Rock), we must face up to a sequel’s inevitable waning of invention. Nothing catastrophic, but for all the pop-culture riffing on The Twilight Zone and Survivor, and Hollywood in-jokes (the big snicker being that Alex is Stiller), the script struggles to juggle both sentiment and parody and ends up a bit square.

Even visually, the zanier flourishes of its still distinctive animated style (a Cubist Merrie Melodies) fall prey to show-off shots of impossibly detailed vistas, teeming with wildlife, and a generally less charming bigness. The real source of its weakening limbs, however, is overcrowding. The creators have set themselves the unenviable task of maintaining an already hefty cast of furry screw-ups, while adding a herd more, and still rustle up a decent storyline. In this lion-leaning tale, too much good stuff gets neglected. To wit: not enough penguins, not enough lemurs, too much Stiller. Something true of most films.

A pleasing and pretty enough re-run, just that bit diminished.

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