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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. DreamWorks Animation (2008)

A very funny story about four animals from the New York Zoo stranded in Africa. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) having found themselves washed up on Madagascar in the first film, end up in Africa in this one. The central story line in the film is a very funny take on the Lion King. To a large extent that is just a clothes line on which to hang a multitude of very funny set pieces, visual and verbal gags and the obligatory dose of life lesson sentiment that animated films are required to carry.

Because the four headlines are forced to carry the burden of the sentiment, they are somewhat held back, they are not allowed to be simply funny, they have to be meaningful as well. Ben Stiller and Chris Rock manage this with the lowest cringe factor, Jada Pinkett Smith has sufficient character in her vocal work to keep the sentiment under control, David Schwimmer drowns. He does make the most of the few opportunities he is given, the script is steadfastly stacked against him.

The real joy of the film lie with the supporting cast, where free from any need to be anything other than funny, the film makers make the most of their freedom. The group of penguins are show stealer's, their fast verbal gags and wonderful animated character work are fantastic. They are given very serious competition by a pair of monkeys, the most formidable little old lady in film and Alec Baldwin as the evil lion. They give the film tremendous force and momentum and are tremendously funny. As the lemur king of Madagascar who travels to Africa with the New York quartet, Sacha Baron Cohen is an unmitigated pleasure.

The animation is distinctive, it is nicely cartoony and very mobile and expressive, the expressiveness of the characters in motion is beautiful. Smart, very funny with top class animation, this film is a treat.

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