Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa arrived on DVD yesterday, much to my delight. The original Madagascar was surprisingly entertaining, and there was no reason why its sequel - which was a given as soon as the first one surpassed the $150 mark - would be in any different. Unless DreamWorks hired a new writer and that man stayed up all night drinking to come up with a good idea, and that good idea was to rip off The Lion King.
"So they want me to write a better screenplay than the perfectly good one from the original..." the writer, Etan Cohen, says in the middle of his binge (talking to himself due to some delusion), "The first one is about a bunch of New York zoo animals who accidentally wind up in Madagascar and discover a bunch of crazy creatures. How can I top that?"
"Easy," he responds to himself. "I saw this movie a while back called The Lion King that people apparently liked. What if I take that movie, inject my characters into the story and then sap all of the heart and humor out of it?"
"Great idea, sir!"
Madagascar 2 really does feel like a poor man's Lion King, sapped of originality, creativity, humor and life. The first movie succeeded on its pure fish-out-of-water concept, but this go around, that concept isn't as fresh. Whereas in the original you have a lion (Ben Stiller), a zebra (Chris Rock), a giraffe (David Schwimmer) and a a hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) stumbling across a civilization of weird and psychotic primates, here we have the four protagonists wandering across a nature reserve full of... lions, zebra, giraffes and hippos. Throw in a bunch of stranded New York tourists led by a nauseatingly stereotypical Jewish woman and a plotting lion who is more conceited than evil and you have yourself a movie. Sort of.
Not to beat a zebra to death, but the similarities to The Lion King, while perhaps unintended, are glaring and not favorable to Madagascar 2. There's Stiller's lion, who was lost and believed dead at a young age. There's the return to his homeland and a reunion with his parents. Yes, so the dad dies in The Lion King, but the father's name is Zuba - which actually sounds a lot like Simba when spoken aloud. The main villain is a lion seeking to take over the throne, and under his rule the "pride land" (here, a far-less-glamorous nature reserve) starts to dry up.
Sure, Madagascar 2 doesn't have to be The Lion King. It is much more a comedy, a light-hearted, zany adventure of dancing lions, psychotic lemurs, a hippo "playa" and even a great white shark that flops itself around. But when the plot feels so eerily similar to a movie that is regarded as one of the best animated movies ever made - presumably for walking that fine line of offering memorable song, great visuals and a tragic but exciting storyline - it is impossible not to compare the films. Unfortunately, Madagascar 2 works on shallow principles and lacks the heart and sincerity of The Lion King.
Beyond that, though, it just isn't funny. The homicidal penguins are still the best part, but even they seem subdued. Every situation lacks the goofiness of its predecessor, and this is mainly thanks to the removal of the characters from the title country. The re-introduction of humans is also unfortunate, as they aren't remotely funny or even properly animated.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is a perfect example of why studios should do everything in their power - no matter how much money it costs - to use the same writers throughout a franchise. The screenplay leads this sequel to be shockingly dull, and that's not a good thing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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