This image is from the official album cover of Dance Vault Mixes - 'Copacabana (At the Copa),' owned by Arista Records LLC.

Upon rewatching the cinematic masterpiece that is “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” I discovered a hidden earworm — and no, it’s not “Big and Chunky” by, though that is a timeless bop. It’s Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” The song is incorporated so well into the scene that it’s near-invisible upon first viewing, but going back I finally noticed it, and boy am I glad. 

“Copacabana” is the disco, samba, tragic love story that we didn’t know we needed. The soaring strings, funky horns and absolutely groovy bassline make for a wonderfully nostalgic trip. Like Skipper says in the movie, “It does have a catchy hook” — and boy is it catchy. It’s tinged with sadness while fitting in with the upbeat tempo, and this contradiction makes it so interesting. The gap between the story of a heartbroken dancer and the jubilant backing track makes for an incredibly unique listening experience.

There’s something about Barry Manilow’s voice that’s charismatically dorky but clean at the same time. Undoubtedly, he is an incredibly talented singer, but his voice has such a distinct timbre that “Copacabana” wouldn’t be the same without it. The backup vocals take me down memory lane as well — it’s just so disco. 

The song makes a hard left turn in its bridge; the bass starts to walk and the strings and chorus provide a solid harmonic foundation off of which a horn line emerges: a bit of funky tinged with some ’70s-cop-show music. 

If you ever want to go back in time and get a little snapshot of the magic of Barry Manilow, take a turn off the beaten path and meet me at the “Copacabana.”

Daily Arts Writer Jason Zhang can be reached at