Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (US - BD)
Gabe failed to stop Reel 2 Real in, now that song's in his head all over again...
Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman are back. Still trapped in Madagascar the group, along with their chimpanzee and penguin friends, are planning an easy plane ride back to New York, and back to their pampered zoo lifestyles. Unfortunately, their scrap-made airplane only makes it as far as mainland Africa before crashing. After surviving the crash our heroes are introduced to the lives they’d given up by living in a zoo. Alex is reunited with his long lost family, Marty discovers he’s not alone in the world, Gloria finds what she assumes is true love, and Melman becomes a doctor, rather than the perpetual patient.
The continuing saga of Gabe vs. DreamWorks Animation took a strange turn recently—I genuinely liked the studio’s last two Blu-ray releases. Kung Fu Panda was actually quite good, and mostly bereft of the studio’s noxious pop-culture influences, and Madagascar (an older film, I admit, but one I hadn’t seen) was a joyful throw-back to classic Chuck Jones. But now we come to a sequel, and looking back at the perfectly acceptable Shrek, one can’t help but then recall that film’s terrible follow-ups, which were, up to this point, the studio’s only theatrical sequels. The first Madagascar crept by on energy and look alone, much like the first Shrek, so I started Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa expecting more of the same.
Things begin strongly. The animation is as dynamic and elastic as ever. It wasn’t broke, and no one needed to fix it. The manic energy is there from the first reel, and doesn’t let up until the story hits its first moment of manufactured poignancy. The ride is enough of a rush that the less jovial adults in the audience (i.e. me) don’t have the time to complain about the garbage referential humour. The physical humour is so aggressive and so old school, that only real curs will find themselves able to muster the strength to resist it.
Besides my continuing dislike of pop-culture references from nowhere, my big gripe with the original Madagascar was its ending, which didn’t really deal with any of the conflicts brought up in the course of the narrative. It kind of felt like the last act was missing. Madagascar 2 is that third act, but it’s a long third act, with a couple of repetitive acts of its own. I understand the creators were going for entertainment and easy morals, but there’s a confusing duality going on here. Madagascar 2 both fulfils the promise of a good sequel (continuing the story), but it also suffers the problems of a bad sequel (too many repetitive character beats). Somewhere between these two decent films is one really good one.
Madagascar 2 is generally comparable to Madagascar in hi-def image quality. The stylized animation still doesn’t lend itself to as intricate a transfer as say, Wall-E, but there’s been some tweaks to the style, and this disc features a higher contrast ratio. It makes sense given the change in location. The first movie took place beneath the lush trees of Madagascar, so light was at a bit of a premium. The sequel takes place under the intense glare of the African sun, drawing thicker shadows. The fur continues to be a source of cool detail, as do the water effects, which don’t really match the rest of the film stylistically speaking, but are impressive. One ‘improvement’ made between films I could’ve done without is the more realistic look of the hippo skin. When wet they look kind of like fat, naked, gray humans. Shudder.
Again, the two films are pretty comparable, but with a bigger budget, and its bigger is better attitude, Madagascar 2 mix is more impressive. Highlights include the show-opening plane crash, the show-stopping volcano scene, and the wall of Chris Rock voices any time the entire zebra herd is on screen, and the many musical moments, which fill out the surround channels to a more extreme degree than most. Hanz Zimmer doesn’t push himself too much here, but it’s cool to hear such a pro having fun. As a Morricone fan I should’ve hated the poppy remix of the ‘Good the Bad and the Ugly’ theme, but it made me smile. To the same token, I should’ve hated the slow, symphonic version of ‘Move It Move It’, but it’s actually quite amusing. Overall I’m actually pretty impressed with the mix of theatrical score and pop/dance influence.
Madagascar 2 starts with a producer/director commentary. It’s mostly a technically minded, and spends a lot of time congratulating the little people (which is admirable, yet boring), but it flows pretty well, and the commentators have a good tone. There’s a lot of info (which I could’ve looked up on IMDb.com, I suppose) that comes as a reasonable surprise, such as cinematographer extraordinaire Guillermo Navarro being brought on as advisor, and some interesting talk of alternate story development. The ‘Animator’s Corner’ picture-in-picture option was not an option for my Profile 1.0 player (if I get a job I swear I’ll fix this), and the Trivia Track predictably mirrors the commentary track.
This disc doesn’t break the mould set forth by almost every other DreamWorks Animation Blu-ray release. ‘It’s a Family Affair’ (nine minutes) starts our usual fluffy, EPK in disguise featurettes with a look behind the cast. This one runs on scenes from the movie, small behind the scenes bits, and interviews with many of the actors. ‘Crash Landing’ continues the predictability with a semi-in-depth look at the production of the crash sequence. This four minute exploration includes a look at the story boards, the scratch track, bringing Navarro in for ideas, and filming the animators acting the scene out on a man-handled couch. ‘African Adventure’ (seven minutes) concerns the crew’s requisite trip to Africa, which ended up informing the story as much as the visuals.
‘The Bronx Zoo: Madagascar’ is a short look at a new exhibit at New York’s Bronx Zoo. It’s informative enough (including pop-up facts), but is mostly a thinly veiled ad for the zoo. ‘Jambo Jambo: Swahili Speak’ is an interactive (ish) lesson in the language, which I feel I must note plays no role in the film.
Under ‘More Penguins’ are two shorts staring the ever popular Madagascar Penguins. ‘Popcorn Panic’ sees the Central Park Zoo’s keeper strictly enforcing the animal feeding rules and ‘Gone in a Flash’ sees Maurice the lemur disappearing and the penguins taking the case. The shorts are cute, about twelve minutes a piece with credits, and co-star some of the other animals (like the lemurs, and the chimps, with some of the original voices), but the animation is about video game level, likely an effect of a depleted budget.
The disc is completed with a juke box option for five songs, plus additional DreamWorks Animation songs, a game called ‘Test Flight of Air Penguin’ (not very fun), BD-Live options, and a collection of DreamWorks trailers.
Madagascar: Back 2 Africa is a plenty worthy follow-up to the plainly enjoyable Madagascar, but it’s no Toy Story 2. There’s actually plenty of potential for a third movie, and the creative team is already on a better projection than the Shrek creators were, so maybe we’ll see real improvement by that time. This disc looks and sounds great, but that’s entirely expected based on the budget and production. The extras are better than average thanks to the presence of two entertaining shorts staring the popular penguins.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 6th February 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Directors/Producers Commentary, Trivia Track, Animator's Corner, 'It's a Family Affair', 'Crash Landing', 'African Adventure', 'Bronx Zoo: Madagascar', ‘Jambo Jambo: Swahili Speak’, Two Penguin Shorts, 'Test Flight' Game, Jukebox, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen
Genre: Animation and Comedy
Length: 89 minutes
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