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Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Print E-mail
Friday, 13 February 2009
ImageI absolutely loved “Madagascar,” so I was thrilled when I learned that they were releasing a sequel.  Like “Finding Nemo,” “Madagascar” is one of those animated films that has a bunch of memorable lines, characters and story.  The sequel, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is a bit of an enigma in terms of making of my mind on its quality.  Audiences seemed to take to the film as it grossed $180 million at the box offices in the US.  Still, this is not one of those sequels that lives up to the original, mainly because the story is unoriginal.

All the lovable characters from the original return in this sequel, along with all the original voice cast members, which the only way the sequel of an animated feature will work.  Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Sascha Baron Cohen and Cedric the Entertainer all resume their roles.  New additions to the cast include Bernie Mac (in one of his final performances) and Alec Baldwin.

The sequel picks up not quite where the first film left off.  At the end of the first film, the gang was headed back to New York City on the ocean liner that had been returned to Madagascar by the lovable penguins.  The ship was about out of gas and I assume that is how the sequel is able to start with the gang all back in Madagascar.  The underlying story for the sequel is based around Alex’s family.  The film opens with a small lion cub being kidnapped from the Wildlife preserve in Africa, eventually to be lost at sea and wash up at the New York City Zoo, becoming Alex the Lion.  It is at this point that the audience knows exactly how the rest of the film is going to pan out.

The film then jumps back to the present in which the gang has somehow repaired the infamous plane in the tree.  The plane is launched via a large slingshot and actually flies, piloted by the penguins.  Unfortunately, they run out of fuel on the flight back to New York City and crash land in the middle of an African wildlife reserve, which just so happens to be Alex’s original homeland.  I thought it would take a little longer, but Alex immediately reconnects with his parents.  It is a joyous occasion until Makunga (Alec Baldwin) points out that Alex must go through the right of passage to join the pride.  Alex, still the prancing dancing lion, thinks the passage is a dance contest and not a fight.  Sure enough, Alex loses and is banished, but not before Zuba, Alex’s father gives up the Alpha Lion position and leaves with his wife and son. It doesn’t take long before the herds’ watering hole dries up.  Alex volunteers to travel outside of the preserve to unclog the water flow.  Turns out that the water is being blocked by a dam that was built by some stranded tourists (vehicles stolen by the penguins to rebuild the plane).  One of the stranded tourists is the little old lady that can kick the pants off Alex and any other wild animal.

The story is simple and completely predictable.  It is really more of a sequel to “The Lion King” than to Madagascar.  Still the characters are lovable and I actually laughed a whole lot more in this film than the original.  Still, I cannot give the same marks to this film as the original due to the unoriginal story.  Still, the film is very enjoyable.

The Blu-ray gives us a 1080p/AVC encode that is perfect.  This is not to be unexpected as the film is produced and executed completely in the digital domain.  It does not suffer from unstable black levels or poor colors or contrast, or any type of compression artifacts.  I must say that I recently returned from Africa and the filmmakers really did capture the essence of the pride lands.  Everything from the Safari trails to the watering hole to the colors of the sunrises and sunsets were absolutely perfect.  It made me long to be back in Africa.  This is a brilliantly produced video track.  No complaints.

The audio is almost perfect as well.  DreamWorks gives us a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track.  DreamWorks has corrected everything I had complaints about with the first film’s audio.  The surround channels are constantly engaged.  Right from the get go, the music, ambience and sound effects permeated the rear channels.  I was immersed the entire film, well except for a couple brief segments.  The dynamic range is fairly good.  The music comes in strong when need be and the quite dialogue scenes are still powerful.  Even those quiet dialogue scenes have terrific ambience.  There is always some sound going on in the wild, and the sound designers paid great attention to that detail.  Discrete effects are also terrifically placed.  The soundtrack is very enveloping.  The LFE channel is bombastic.  It provides a powerful low-end to the crashes and rumbles of the pride land.  This is a terrific audio track that could be used to demo animated sound design on Blu-ray.

There is a decent supplemental package present on the Blu-ray.  First there is a filmmakers’ audio commentary, which consists of producers Mireille Soria and Mark Swift, as well as directors Erica Darnell and Tom McGrath.  This track is entertaining at points but there is a lot of information that bombards you, leaving you with an aching head.  There is a Trivia Track, exclusive to the Blu-ray, which provides standard tidbits about the film and cast.  “It’s A Family Affair: The Cast of Escape 2 Africa” is a fairly standard cast featurette.  “The Making of Escape 2 Africa” is another standard making-of featurette.  “Crash Landing” gives us the storyboard version of the plane crash.  “African Adventure” covers the real African locations that inspired the scenery for the animated feature.  “Jambo Jambo: Swahili Speak” looks at the African language.  “The Bronx Zoo: Madagascar” is a little tour of the Madagascar section of the Zoo.  “More Penguins” takes another look at the lovable penguin characters.  “Mad Music” is a promotion for the film’s soundtrack.  “Test Flight of the Air Penguin Game” is a very kid version of flight simulation.  Also exclusive to the Blu-ray is a picture-in-picture commentary track.  It contains the same audio as the audio commentary but also contains some of the video footage contained in the featurettes.  Lastly, there are some trailers and a BD-Live section.

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is a great sequel that just doesn’t quite hold up to the original due to the unoriginal story.  Still, it is surely to be enjoyed by kids all over.  The video presents us with beautiful colors and the audio is fully immersive.  Definitely add this disc to your collection.

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