Madagascar 2 - Second Verse, Same as the First

Movie Review: Madagascar 2

When an animated movie makes over $500 million, you know a sequel is in the works. As in yesterday’s interview, directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath didn’t sit around long to get the greenlight for Madagascar: Back 2 Africa.

This brings up the second thing about an animated sequel. The chances of the sequel being better, or at least as good as, the original is one tough order. The good news is McGrath and Darnell succeeded. M:B2A may not be better, but is just as good as the first movie.

That’s a tougher order than it sounds.

Like another Dreamworks franchise, Shrek, Madagascar 2 feels it must need to add more characters if it’s going to work. This means that the main four, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) have to now share their 90 minutes of screen time with a lot of company. In this case, this means the promotion of The Penguins and their leader, Skipper (McGrath), the main lemurs of Mort (Andy Richter), Maurice (Cedric The Entertainer) and, of course, King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen). It also includes Mason the Chimp (Conrad Vernon) and Nana (Elisa Gabrielli), the “bad kitty” old lady who only had a cameo in the first film. If that 13 aren’t enough, add Alex’s parents (Bernie Mac and Sherry Shepherd), a new adversary in the form of a rival lion, Makunga (Alec Baldwin) and a new lover for Gloria, Moto Moto (

That’s 17 characters Darnell and McGrath have to juggle. The good news is most of these characters had some kind of introduction in the first film, so the directors don’t waste time on them. Probably the best of the new though are Nana (Elisa Gabrielli), the little old lady, and that darn sexy hippo Moto Moto, who somehow manages to cross Barry White with Prince and makes it work.

But that isn’t enough though, once our heroes land in Africa, they’re given six different storylines to pursue. Alex, Gloria, Melman and Marty each are given their own respective story about acceptance inside their respective pride, bloat (that’s apparently what hippos have) and herds. Meanwhile, Skipper and Mason must learn to work together to repair the plain that literally dropped them on the Dark Continent without a role of duct tape to be found. Compound this with Nana, who proves once and for all that surviving the concrete jungles of New York City makes her more than a match for the wilds of the great plains of Southern Africa. If that isn’t enough, the three lemurs weave throughout every plot, adding their own over-heated philosophizing and monkeywrenching to the whole process.

Unlike Shrek 3, which drowned under the mass of this many characters, this film does a pretty solid job of juggling this many balls. About the only two that probably could have used a tad more development are Marty and Melman’s. Otherwise, Gloria’s dealings with Moto and Alex and his parents contention with Makunga are strong enough in and of themselves to carry the film. The Penguins/Mason line is absolutely hilarious and Nana is a revelation as the iddy biddy lady who’s as lethal with her hand bag as she is a shotgun. Got to give Baldwin credit, too. His vainglorious Makunga works off the worst elements of Kurt Russell and will leave you roaring when he gets his inevitable comeuppance.

What really makes this film work though is McGrath and Darnell do a superlative job of crashing a ton of info and at the same time keeping the plot moving. Their heavy reliance of doing story development with the actors proves that the voice cast in and of itself is highly talented, but also highly creative in coming up with ideas of keeping their respective roles loudly amusing. If anything, the film is like an African feast. If the sweet peanut sauce or baked banana with topping isn’t too you liking, the spicy goat dish on rice will please your palette. The small samples of each main course end up making an overall pleasing meal.

To top it, the directors not only have a well-developed sense for snappy dialogue and quick character development, they have their Tex Avery/Bob Clampett sense for off-the-wall gags working on overdrive. Just when you think they can’t top the last sequence for Rube Goldberg-like inventiveness or Chuck Jones-like timing, they come up with another one that literally had members of the screening room whisper ‘No! They didn’t!’ with extreme pleasure.

So is this sequel worth watching? Well, if you liked the first film, you’ll probably be extremely satisfied with this sequel. If you didn’t, as King Julian might say, you’d better move it. Personally, this is one franchise where I hope they get greenlit for a third film.

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