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MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Voices: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin, Will.I.Am
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: February 6, 2009

“Is this place great or what?”

“I’m going with ‘or what’.”

Film ***

The box office success of Madagascar helped to establish another lucrative animated movie series for Dreamworks to go alongside the Shrek films. It was a fun, breezy, and quite hilarious adventure with its own unique brand of humor. While the story was far from unpredictable, the quantity of laughs more than made up for it.

As it turns out, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is an even better film than its predecessor. Everything here has pretty much gotten an upgrade. The laughs are nonstop, there’s a much better developed story, and the computer animation is absolutely breathtaking (I could only imagine what it looked like in IMAX).

Picking up right where the last movie ended, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are preparing for a safe trip back home to the Central Park Zoo after experiencing the taste of true freedom on the island of Madagascar. But thanks to the antics of an insane quartet of penguins, who absolutely stole the last movie, their time away from home is about to be extended. The penguins had hoped to fly everyone home via a beat up, WWII era cargo plane which, along with the plan, heads south and crashes.

Suddenly, our four friends find themselves in the wondrous beauty known as Africa or, in other words, not very far from where they previously were. As the four penguins (Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Mason) attempt to patch the plane back together (oh lord), Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria explore the African landscape. They’re startled to discover that each of their individual animal class resides here, and in large population.

The heart of the story deals with Alex being reunited with his father, Zumba (Bernie Mac). In the movie’s opening, we learn that a very young Alex was taken away by poachers at the very moment he was being taught the art of the lion by his father, who happens the Alpha Lion. But Alex, the dancing main attraction of the Central Park Zoo, is unfamiliar with the warrior ways of his tribe, which may have a sour effect in proving himself as a lion to his family.

Meanwhile, an unusual love triangle develops. Gloria has her eye on the resident male hippo stud, Moto Moto (Will.I.Am). Problem is, Melman very much has feelings for her and desperately wants to tell her.

There’s also the matter of Makunga (Alec Baldwin), a cold and devious lion and a longtime rival of Zumba. He wants nothing more in life than to claim the title of Alpha Lion. Upon seeing that Alex is a dancer and not a fierce warrior, Makunga uses this in a scheme to force Zumba to hand over the Alpha Lion scepter, or have Alex banished from the tribe forever.

2008 delivered many memorable computer animated releases, including Kung Fu Panda, Bolt and the masterpiece that is WALL*E. I wasn’t expecting Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa to earn a spot on that list, mainly because I figured it was going to be a re-hash of the first movie. Much to my surprise, it’s superior to its predecessor in every key area for an animated comedy, and as the case with the first movie there’s plenty here for both kids and adults to enjoy.

Video ****

This is the first animated release from Dreamworks I’ve experienced in Blu-ray, and I can simply sum up the presentation with two words: ASTONISHINGLY BEAUTIFUL! From beginning to end, there is so much in the frame for your eyes to gaze upon and be dazzled by in terms of sharpness, detail, and amazing colors. The overall detail in the computer animation here is nothing short of remarkable. Not only does this rank as one of the best looking animated Blu-ray releases, but it’s one of the best looking Blu-rays to date!

Audio ****

Before popping this disc in, I had no idea that the TrueHD mix was going to deliver such an astounding presentation. Most computer animated films manage to make the most of a sound mix, no matter if it’s a sci-fi epic or a plain comedy, which this is. Everything here is heard in the highest possible form, in particular a couple of loud sequences that come out of nowhere. Dialogue delivery is as remarkably clear as it can get, and music playback (of which there is a lot) is a thoroughly stunning treat for the ears!

Features ****

If any type of movie deserves to get as much bonus material as it can get on a Blu-ray, it’s an animated release like this. The people at Dreamworks seem to agree, as we get a spectacular package here. First off, we have “The Animator’s Corner”, a Blu-ray exclusive that includes a Picture in Picture presentation that includes pop ups of Storyboards and Interviews as the movie is playing. There’s also a fun Trivia Track, as well as a commentary with directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, and producers Mireille Soria and Mark Swift. In addition, we get multiple Production Featurettes including “It's a Family Affair: The Cast of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”, “The Making of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”, “Crash Landing” and “African Adventure”, as well as two additional featurettes titled “Jambo Jambo: Swahili Speak” and “The Bronx Zoo: Madagascar”. And it doesn’t end there, as we are treated to “More Penguins”, a couple of short films showcasing the crazy four from the movie, “Alex’s Dance Off”, which instructs you on how to move and groove properly, an interactive game called “Test Flight of Air Penguin”. Rounding out the collection are six music videos, bonus trailers and the Dreamworks Animation Video Jukebox, which features numerous songs from various films to sing along with.

Summary:

Like its predecessor, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is simply a fun piece of computer animated hilarity. But it also happens to deliver some satisfying character depth and a well rounded story. On Blu-ray, it’s an amazing visual treat of the highest order and quite the fantastic experience for the whole family!

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