“It’s like déjà vu,” says Alex the lion (Ben Stiller). “Like I’ve been here before!”
Tell us about it, posh-paws. A play-it-safe sequel to 2005’s family hit, Madagascar 2 strays as little from formula as it does from the original’s setting.
You’ll remember – vaguely – that our zoo-reared quartet were on the plane back to NYC at the end of the first one; part two sees them spiral into a crash landing on the plains of Africa.
Fish-out-of-water frolics again, then – though it’s a homecoming for Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), reunited with proud patriarch Zuba (Bernie Mac), who has no idea that junior is more lord of the dance than king of the jungle.
The father/son dynamic becomes alpha-thread as the story splinters into sub-plots: giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) finds his medical calling; Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) is chubby-chased by a fellow hippo; and Marty (Chris Rock) discovers he’s not the only ‘crack-a-lacking’ zebra in the village.
The stand-out? None of the above. No one’s sorted the franchise’s fundamental fault: lead characters who aren’t charming or different or funny. When you can’t feed Chris Rock a single zinger, it’s time to rethink.
The angsty, anarchic heroes of Escape 2 Africa are the supporting gallery: the urbane monkeys, the hare-brained penguins, handbagswinging biddie Elisa and Sacha Baron Cohen, doing his hilarious, silly-voiced Peter Sellers thing as delusional lemur King Julian.
Within its own limits, the film entertains: DreamWorks’ animators up their game with the CG visuals and, when in doubt, cut to a totpleasing shot of dancing animal buttocks (usually to the strain of ‘I Like To Move It, Move It’).
But genuine, Pixar-bothering emotion? Forget it - the only poignancy lies, inadvertently, in Zuba’s vocals being growled by the late Bernie Mac.
Everything that worked about the first Madagascar, plus a lot that didn’t. The zebra prattles and the giraffe whines, but when the lemur blows raspberries or sings ‘Private Dancer’, giggles all round.