Sunday, December 07, 2008

MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA - great fun despite the surfeit of characters

If anything goes wrong, make a sound like a dying giraffe.The Kid and I had a great time watching the MADAGASCAR sequel. It's a film full of loveable characters voiced by brilliant comedians. The animation is stunning - the African landscapes made me pine for Thika. The humour is character-led rather than relying on smart-ass pop-cultural references. And let's not forget those penguins, who are as good as anything from the old AIRPLANE! movies. (What else would we expect from Etan Cohen, a writer who is steeped in Hollywood satire and penned the patchy but occasionally brilliant TROPIC THUNDER).

The movie sees four New York zoo animals, stranded in Madagascar, make an attempt to fly back to New York in a battered plane piloted by penguins. The pile of junk only makes it as far as Africa, and the animals are pleasantly surprised to be back among their own kind. The hero, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), finds his real mum and dad, but LION KING-stylee is banished by an evil lion called Makunga (Alex Baldwin). Once again, the key conflict is that Alex just wants to be an entertainer instead of being a ferocious hunter. Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) is disturbed to find that all zebras are alike - and in a bravura racial commentary - that his friends can't tell him apart from the herd. Meanwhile Melman the Zebra (David Schwimmer) has to pluck up the courage to tell Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) that he loves her - a plot line all the more piquant insofar as it shadows the Ross-Rachel plot-line from FRIENDS.

The only problem with the film is that it is, in a sense, a victim of its own success. The film-makers have created four lead characters that we care about, let alone the comic light relief in the form of the aforementioned penguins and Sacha Baron Cohen's King Julien - equally as entertaining as the main plot. So you do get the feeling that lots of different characters are fighting for attention in a serious of stories that are never given as much room to breathe as necessary.

MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA is already on release in Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, the Philippines, the US, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Egypt, Portugal, Iceland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, France, Argentina, Chile, Germany, Mexico and the UK. It goes on release next week in Croatia, Brazil, Estonia and Venezuela. It opens on December 18th in Australia, Greece, Israel, Italy and Hong Kong. It opens in Poland on January 1st, in South Korea on January 8th and in Japan on March 14th.

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