Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith are back in their animated animal roles which 3 years ago saw their zoo animals being transported to Madagascar in a typical fish out of water tale, where they had to rely on their street smarts and friendship to survive in an environment they do not fully understand. While it's the usual pop-culture jokes and witty one liners that plague recent animated films, there were some gems in that movie, the ones which stuck suck as the crowd favourite penguins stealing the whole show, as well as the madcap rave party tune Move It!
Beginning directly where we last saw Alex the Lion (Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Rock), Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Smith), the penguins have finally built a plane that ought to bring our merry crew back to New York, together with Julien the lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his sidekick (Cedric the Entertainer), but of course should that happen, there'll be no sequel to begin with. So we have the crew crash land into the continent Africa, thereby guaranteeing yet another tale of being from the outside, but now having a habitat that's much closer to their natural environment, one which sees the animal types in question grouped together into one reserve for storytelling convenience.
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, who also provided the voice of Skipper the head penguin, the storyline might seem like a poor man's cousin to Disney's The Lion King, what with exiles and alpha-lions battling it out to be king of the habitat. The filmmakers had taken the opportunity to craft the backstory for Alex a little more, so that the main plot of his return to his home could be dwelled upon, with sub plots for the others to fall into place. You have Alex's return and reunion with his parents, with adversary coming from an earlier generation, there's Marty who discovers that he's no longer unique but the same as every other hundredth zebra out there, Glora looking for love with other hippos now that there's no lack of suitors, and Melman fighting his own cowardice to reveal his feelings for Gloria, as well as being appointed the witch doctor for the land.
And if you think that the primary voice cast is already A-list, the film piles on to that list with the likes of the late Bernie Mac voicing Zuba the alpha-lion, Alec Baldwin again in a villanous role as his rival Makunga, and Will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas in a hilarious role of hippo-casanova Moto Moto (the name's so good you have to say it twice!) The songs department falls up a bit short this time round, though thankfully “Move It!” wasn't conveniently and lazily played ad-nauseam. Given the army of illustrators working on the project, you can't expect quality to drop from its predecessor, though there's nothing new to be injected into a mature presentation.
Despite the plundering of the same old family values / theme / storyline and the importance of establishing strong friendships, this new Madagascar managed to deliver on multiple fronts, joining the ranks of the few whose sequels are superior than the original. The comedy which got piled up here managed to work through the punchlines, leading to a number of characters like the monkeys and even the tough-cookie granny to steal some limelight from the lovable penguins. If you liked the original, then you'e likely to fall in love with this one.