A fun Madagascar sequel underscores a great year for animation
Not one animated film released by a major studio this year has been a disappointment. This is clearly a genre where a lot is at stake: consider that these days a single family-friendly CGI film can cost well over $100 million to produce. That’s as much as a Wall Street bailout for crying out loud! Wait, that’s BILLION, sorry.
On the other hand, the profits often soar into the stratosphere-deeming animated franchises to be worthwhile investments.
So how does the latest animated film, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” stack up with its competitors? Pretty well.
The lone sequel of this year’s bunch, “Escape 2 Africa” reunites the manic menagerie of animals from 2005’s successful original-which had more personality and was funnier than expected. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, Dreamworks’ latest installment offers more of the same slapstick humor that owes as much to Chuck Jones’s “Looney Toons” as it does to its African setting that can’t help but spark “Lion King” comparisons.
A head-spinning setup has Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and friends trying unsuccessfully to leave Madagascar to head back to their NYC zoo. Of course, their rickety plane crash lands in the African savannah. Displaying more character development than most American films-each character has his adorable idiosyncrasies: self-doubt, unrequited romantic ambitions, etc.-the film relies on rapid-fire gags that will amuse most adults, and cute antics that will satisfy the little ones. The latter, most notably provided by lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and a scene-stealing huddle of pilot penguins. The animation itself is greatly improved, and what this sequel lacks in the charm of the original it makes up for in sheer gags-per-minute velocity.
While Disney/Pixar’s “Wall-E” will likely win awards for its uncanny and original storyline, (Oscar loves a ‘toon with a political-environmental message, like 2006’s “Happy Feet”), two other family friendly films should not be forgotten.
Dreamworks also released “Kung Fu Panda,” a winningly goofy film that contained some superb chop-socky fighting sequences, unexpected dream-like visuals, and a role tailor-made for Jack Black’s persona.
Somewhat forgotten because of its early release this year, “Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who” retains the sweet whimsy of the legendary source material and offers a perfect vehicle for the limber vocal prowess of Jim Carrey.
Animated family friendly films appear to be Hollywood’s sure thing, even in a decade dominated by superheroes and villains.
Rated PG for some mild crude humor.