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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Zoo Critters Redux
by John P. McCarthy

A menagerie of not-so-wild animals tickles familial funny bones for a second time in the rapid-fire sequel to 2005's computer-animated hit Madagascar. Though it took the creative team three years to launch a follow-up, the result unreels with such alacrity you'd think they were trying to set a new celluloid speed record.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa sends four pals from the Central Park Zoo -- Alex the lion (Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) -- hurtling back to their "ancestral crib" on the African plains. These domesticated critters may be ill equipped to cope with life in the wild, but the movie has no problem dealing with the demands of survival at the multiplex. 

The fauna-out-of-water romp boasts top-flight animation, music and voice characterizations, plus those irascible aviator penguins and the wisecracking lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen). It should dominate this weekend and thrive as counter-programming to the new Bond movie Quantum of Solace opening next Friday.

Never mind that M:2 makes few concessions to young moviegoers -- without, it's nice to report, indulging in anything inappropriate such as crass potty humor or mature innuendo. Children will enjoy the ride, yet older folks will find it especially entertaining, provided they catch the many pop-culture references flung their direction, whether to the mini-series Roots, the theme music from Born Free, the Spaghetti Western scores of Ennio Morricone, or the choreography of Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins.

Everyone will recognize that co-directors and writers Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath are swiping from The Lion King. A prologue tells Alex's backstory and how he ended up in captivity. As a cub on the savannah, he was snatched by poachers when his father Zuba (voiced by the late comedian Bernie Mac) was busy fighting Makunga (Alec Baldwin) his archrival for alpha male of the pride. Alex's career as a hammy showbiz cat is familiar from Madagascar. Faster than you can say Bert Lahr, he and Marty, Melman and Gloria flee Gotham and are headed back to Madagascar on a freighter, which runs aground.

The penguins then build an airplane and the gang takes off for New York, only to crash land in Africa, near the nature reserve and watering hole where Alex was born. Seeing what life is like outside of captivity and meeting thousands of their brethren, the animals are bowled over. Gloria hangs out with other hippos for the first time and is romanced by a mud hole lothario named Moto Moto (musician channeling Barry White). Learning about the rituals of his fellow giraffes cures Melman of his hypochondria, and Marty experiences an identity crisis upon discovering that all the zebras look and sound just like he does.

Reunited with his mom and dad, Alex must go through a rite of passage or be banished; and Makunga, still hungry for power, conspires against him. (Spoiler alert: Alex fails and is sent off wearing a fruit-laden hat from a Carmen Miranda number.) Meanwhile, the penguins hire monkeys to help them rebuild the plane once again. They steal parts from safari jeeps occupied by belligerent New York tourists, including the little old lady from Madagascar who has a black belt in whipping naughty kitties. 

Finally, because it's 2008 and every movie has to have an environmental message, the watering hole dries up and King Julien suggests making a mammalian sacrifice to the volcano gods.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is a dizzying attempt to juggle numerous characters and navigate multiple interconnected storylines. Yet Darnell and McGrath, supported by hundreds of artisans at DreamWorks Animation, hold everything together with aplomb, injecting the whirlwind picture with plenty of attitude and jokes, giving every member of the animal kingdom and every segment of the audience their due.

(Released by DreamWorks and rated "PG" for mild crude humor.)

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