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Animals with issues: ‘Madagascar’ returns

Published: Thu, November 6, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Roger Moore

The penguins — and the human cast — take a curtain call.

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is more an encore than a sequel. Did you or your kids like the commando penguins, Alex the “jazz hands” lion, Sacha Baron Cohen’s impersonation of Peter Sellers, the big-eyed mouse lemur, the cranky little old lady who yells “BAD kitty!” or the “Move It Move It” song?

They all take curtain calls here. The movie borrows almost as heavily from “The Lion King” as it does 2005’s “Madagascar.”

The intrepid, can-do penguins repair a plane to take themselves, the four Central Park Zoo critters — Alex the lion (the voice of Ben Stiller), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Marty the Born Free zebra (Chris Rock) — and the leading lemurs, King Julien and Maurice (Sacha Baron Cohen and Cedric the Entertainer) “home” to New York. Amazingly, they get as far as the African mainland.

That’s where they all belong (except for the penguins and the lemurs), especially Alex, whom we see, in a flashback, plucked from his pride by a poacher when Alex was but a cub.

Now Alex is reunited with his dad (Bernie Mac). Too bad the kid is so inept at being a “real” lion that he can’t keep an evil lion with Alec Baldwin’s voice (and mane) from seizing power. Alex is a little too “Fosse, and Jerome Robbins.”

Marty discovers that the thing that made him unique isn’t all that special when he’s surrounded by a herd of identical (same voice, too) zebras.

Gloria feels the need to mate and tumbles for the first hippo to drop a compliment her way.

And Melman, with his years of experience around vets, may be qualified to be a witch doctor, someone who can keep a sick giraffe from heading off to his “dying hole.”

The penguins enlist primates in their quest to build an aircraft.

“Who says penguins can’t fly?”

In a needless complication, human tourists are also stranded in their corner of Africa, too.

The big crisis: The water hole has gone dry. Will the streetwise New Yorkers have the answer, or will every animal on the savanna turn to King Julien’s silly “volcano god” sacrifice superstition? It’s a teachable moment that’s squandered to make room for the next gag.

The animation shows glossy improvement from the original “Madagascar,” with nature and the neo-natural animals even more detailed than ever. But the knock on Dreamworks’ animation style — that it’s entirely too talky — rings true here.

“Escape 2 Africa” has many an obvious direction to go in, and many an obvious joke to make. Which it does. Will kids still giggle over Cohen, the penguins and the big-bottomed hippo? Why not? They did the last time.

2008, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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