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Monday, November 10, 2008

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

I’ll be honest. I really never paid much notice to the first Madagascar. I just kind-of, sort-of saw it one night on tv while I was writing on my laptop and I was only giving about 20% of my attention to the television screen in the background. I wasn’t very interested in the movie from the beginning. The animation looked rough to me, spoiled by eons of Disney-fied soft edges and pastel hues that invoke a real life look to their animated features. And, deep down inside, I was a tad bit miffed that DreamWorks™ would even dare consider making a movie about a charming talking lion and his jungle friends so soon after Disney blessed the world with The Lion King. Okay, so it had been fourteen years, but for a self-described “besotted Lion King fan” like myself, it’s as if the corpse was barely in the ground and I’d yet to finish sitting Shiva when these upstarts came in and start holding a party in the yard next door and pissed on my beloved Uncle Sheldon’s grave. They could tout their “King of Beasts” Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller; Tropic Thunder), but there was no way, no how, he would worm his way into my rock-cold heart. He was simply the “poor man’s Simba” and not nearly as cuddly. Bah, humbug.

Okay, so maybe I am taking it all a little too seriously, but you see I found love and spirituality through The Lion King so I am a tad protective. Spirituality? Love? Yes, although neither are for
the lion Simba himself. My love belongs to the always optimistic warthog named Pumbaa. His motto is the cheerful “Hakuna Matata!” It means “No Worries!” and he spread that philosophy to the masses throughout the Serengeti in three movies and a tv series. I was (and continue to be) so impressed I had my own car license plates personalized with PUMBAA on them, held in place by specially made Hakuna Matata frames. Too much? Not if you have a collection of more than 200 Pumbaa collectibles: plush Pumbaas, plastic Pumbaas, ceramic and glass Pumbaas; Pumbaas on wheels, Pumbaas in tubs, on sleds, on tree trunks; there are Pumbaa snow globes, Pumbaa lunchboxes, Pumbaa cups, saucers, plates, and drinking glasses. I’ve got a Pumbaa pen and a Pumbaa pin, a Pumbaa watch, a couple of Pumbaa books, Pumbaa Christmas ornaments, and a whole collection of Pumbaa video tapes. My dear friend William even sent me a life-sized Pumbaa once, which is a little overwhelming. It’s not often you open a crate you weren’t expecting and find a made-to-scale smiling warthog inside. But he is perfect for my own personal religion, Pumbaaism. And as the Pope of Pumbaaism, I am obviously biased, but I shall summon co-directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath (they were also co-directors of the first Madagascar) to kiss my ring and I shall then proceed to do my best to look at Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa with unsullied eyes.

So, now that I have wiped the kiss drool from my as-, er, um, ring, let me talk to you about Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. First off, before anything else, there is one thing that I love, love, love almost (almost) as much as my wise and wondrous warthog, and that is comic relief provided by penguins. I nearly went into a coma of sheer delight with Happy Feet, so when Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa began with penguin shenanigans even during the opening shot of DreamWorks™’ logo, well… Oh, you clever devils, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, you reeled me in like a fish on the line.

So from that cute opening shot,
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa picks up right where the original left off. The main characters are still in Madagascar, where, after running away from the Central Park Zoo in New York City and having a convoluted adventure, they now find themselves stranded. Along with the quartet’s leader, Alex the Lion, are his best friend Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock; Don't Mess with the Zohan), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer; Nothing But the Truth), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pickett-Smith; The Women). They are revved up and ready to go now that the zealous penguins have re-built a long-ago crashed airliner out of spare parts, and the merry tribe of lemurs that took in the foursome, under the guidance of their leader Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen; Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) and his toady pal Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer; Street Kings), have designed a launching pad for the plane that includes a gi-normous rubber band meant to propel the aircraft back into the sky and on its way home to New York.

Obviously, from the title, this plane ain’t going anywhere near NYC, and thank goodness because if it did we would be deprived of some pretty funny stuff, starting with the plane ride itself. Please pay better attention to the penguin flight attendant giving those usual safety instructions than you do when you are actually on a plane trip yourself. This is one crazy ride, and she makes you wish all air tramps were this much fun!

Before the African tale can commence, however, writer Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder) fleshes out the background story about Alex’s origins (and how he and the others met) so that once the gang abruptly does land in Africa, a lot of conflicts will fall into place that span generations and rivalries beyond anything having to do directly with Alex or his gang. Ironically, it is Alex’s reunion with his parents (the late Bernie Mac; Transformers and Sherri Shepherd of tv’s “The View”) that brings upheaval within the pride, but it also gives Alex the opportunity to prove his mettle to his family and himself for the first time as a “real” lion.

Identity crises also face the rest of the former zoo inhabitants. Marty, for instance, has always lived with a belief that he is unique, and now he finds himself surrounded by hundreds of other zebras, so
many in fact that his best friend can’t even pick him out of the herd. Then there is Gloria, who is being pursued for the first time ever by a male hippo, Moto Moto (singer, member of Black-Eyed Peas, Will i Am), which is very distressing to Melman, who may not be her species, but who pines for the hippopotamus amphibious as if she is one of his own. Unfortunately, while everybody else on the plain seems to know the scoop, Gloria is always missing the most obvious clues, including his blatant confessions of amour.

Eventually, of course,
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa does conclude with the positive messages of friendship one expects to find in such a movie, and you can bet the house there is enough ‘Kum Ba Yah’ mush to put a diabetic into insulin shock, but before those last few moments, you’ll feel some true jungle fever for this high flying comedy. And you’re gonna love those little black and white birds! Trust me.

1 comment:

salmalion said...

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