Did you see the first Madagascar? Did you like it? If so, why? If not, why? These are the salient questions to consider when reviewing or thinking about films which usually don’t merit either. I didn’t like the first Madagascar; in point of fact, I kinda thought it blew. Here’s a quick laundry list of reasons: first, the voice casting relies on the conceit that seeing and hearing a well-known actor’s persona through an anthropomorphized cartoon animal is inherently funny without that persona being a part of the actual character. It is not. Second, the film can’t really decide whether its audience is comprised of children or adults, and so manufactures a brand of humor that will be funny to neither. Third, tacked-on emotional homilies mean fuckall if it’s been established that the characters and jokes they embody are meaningless.
And so it stands for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (God, that title alone makes me want to open my wrists onto the keyboard), because it’s exactly the same film, the same pitfalls. Exactly. Everything I hated before is back in spades, fitting considering the exact same cast/crew has returned for a sequel justified by box office receipts. I wish the parent-kid combination this movie is clearly marketed to dupe would be forced to sit through the middling predecessors before seeing the middling new release in these bland-as-balls franchises, it might give them pause before their ticket sales inevitably pave the way for Madagascar 5 and Ice Age VII.
In the opening flashback, we’re introduced to alpha-lion Zuba (Bernie Mac, in his second posthumous appearance this weekend) trying to teach his dumbass kid, Alex (Ben Stiller) about being a lion, when a fight with his scheming rival (Alec Baldwin) leads to the lil’ cub being abducted, then ending up as a media-whore in the NYC Zoo with his friends. Several bad plots and one film later, they’ve all ended up in Madagascar, where they’re poised to leave in this bad sequel. Due to several stupid machinations everybody crash lands on the sub-Saharan veldt, where Alex is reunited with his pops, save for more stupid machinations spread over eighty-five minutes of running-time.
To belabor an earlier point, none of the characters we’re presented with really seem to have an interior life. Alex is voiced by a Zoolander-lite manifestation of Stiller; David Schwimmer is giraffe-Ross; Chris Rock is Zebra Chris Rock, etc. Every character seems to rely on an extant awareness of pop culture media-scapes; this has the disadvantage of dating the film from its onset and robbing it of any direct response. Madagascar the film is content to throw winks at the audience instead of establishing its own connections. This can’t be anything but lazy.
Coupled with this is an indecisive comedic tone which reaches for references and jokes only adults will get but applies them with a schizophrenic goofiness meant to appeal to kids. Watching the movie I was reminded of a terrible standup routine - the comedian in this case, flailing his limbs and screaming incoherent neologisms, is so amused by himself that the audience isn’t even a factor in the equation. It’s this unreflexive use of cheap thrills which ultimately dooms the performer to be greeted with nervous chuckles and blank stares. So it goes with Madagascar 2.
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas and wastes his twenties in grad school(s).
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa / Phillip Stephens
Film Reviews | November 10, 2008 | Comments ()