“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”
At the Quality 16 & Showcase

Courtesy of Dreamworks

3 out of 5 Stars

The formula for a commercially successful family film is set in stone: Get some A-List actors; pick a nice holiday release date; fill the script with broad humor for kids and plenty of selective references for parents. The last part more than exemplifies the Dreamworks/PDI model. “Shrek” anyone?

Despite its formulaic predictability, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is an easy and enjoyable flick.

For the 25 people that didn’t see it, the first “Madagascar” was about a lion (Ben Stiller, “Tropic Thunder”), a zebra (Chris Rock, “Bee Movie”), a hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith, “The Women”) and a giraffe (David Schwimmer, TV’s “Friends”). The spunky animals were all banished from New York’s Central Park Zoo, then marooned on the island of Madagascar. In the sequel, the verbose quadrupeds decide to leave the island only to crash-land in continental Africa.

Add some monkeys, the brilliant lemur Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat”) and a spastic, fantastic quartet of penguins, and … the formula hasn’t really changed. Still, the new installment is a little better than its predecessor. Groan all you want about positive themes like individuality, father-son bonding, true love and environmental plight; but they’re all over the film and they’re almost sincere. But the jokes still take precedence.

Wait for the scene where they have plane-construction labor struggles with monkeys, a bit like real-life labor politics. (The first film was all about balls-to-the-wall sight gags and showcasing penguins.) And the swimming birds are back in force; look for them hijacking trucks at break-neck speed. This time around, though, the ante is upped with constant gags, better joke timing and fewer manipulative themes. Unlike the original, the ideas don’t have to be spelled out at the end — you can figure them out on your own.

Julien the lemur has great, subtle one-liners alluding to contemporary class struggles and airport security. To stop a pest child from getting on his plane, Julian screams: “Stop him! He has scissors and hand-cream!” The penguins showboat yet again as they get all the best jokes in the film. And the best part? The best lines aren’t spoiled in the previews.

With “Madagascar,” one has to wonder if the age-old cartoon allusions are understandable or relevant anymore. Everyone’s heard “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” theme used in a joking context, likely in a cartoon (it was even used in a trailer before this movie). But how many eight-year olds will know where it comes from? Is playing “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow funny for tots?

Also, parents are now in their 30s and 40s, meaning they’re late 1960s to 1970s children. They likely haven’t seen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” And with certain lines — like a monkey saying someone looks like “Breakfast” ‘s lead actor George Peppard — one wonders: Who’s this film for: weird critics who actually care about what directors enjoy making note of? No, “Madagascar” is a cute and funny film that’s actually a little better than the first. Yeah, it’s kids’ stuff, but at least it’s pleasant.

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