Everything you loved from the first film is back again. Dreamworks took the high road and brought all of the voice cast back. That means the wonderful chemistry these characters developed in the first film gets to continue. We don’t have to waste time setting up new bonds. We can get right to the adventure. Dreamworks also retained pretty much the entire animation team and added even more talent. The quality of this animation actually improves upon that of the original. Water, in particular, is startling on this film. It is as photo real as I’ve seen it in any animation feature to date. The characters are a little blocky, evidenced by Alex’s paws, but that’s really a style decision and not an animation flaw. Another stand-out rendering is the dust factor. Throughout the film dust plays an important role in the overall look of the picture. Again, you get incredibly photo real particles or clouds of dust in this film. Both of these achievements are milestones in animation technology. Of course, technology is only as good as what you do with it. We get lovable characters in very interesting situations. If you even liked the first film, I think you’ll love this film even more….Except for that pesky “Move It Move It” nonsense.
The film opens up with a quick recap of the events of the first feature. We also get to go further into the past for a very brief encounter with our zoo friends as babies. (Do I smell a cartoon series or prequel film coming our way?) After that quick recap, we join the zoo gang where we last saw them, in the wilds of Madagascar. The Penguins have repaired an old aircraft and set it up on a huge slingshot in preparation for a flight back to the New York Zoo. There’s tearful goodbyes all around, but unfortunately, King Julien decides to join the gang on their return home. The Air Penguin has a successful takeoff, but makes it only as far as the African mainland before it crash lands. Once in Africa, the zoo gang gets to meet wild members of their own kind. Alex (Stiller) discovers his parents and learns how it was that he came to be at the zoo. Gloria (Smith) finds that the African plains are just “raining” male hippos. She hooks up with the continent’s resident stud, Moto Moto (Am). Of course, that’s going to bring out the jealousy in Melman (Schwimmer). Melman also discovers that all giraffes are by nature hypochondriacs and usually crawl off to die at the first sign of illness. His vast knowledge of medicine earns him the rank of herd witch doctor. Mart (Rock) discovers that all zebra look and sound exactly alike. He gets depressed by his perceived lack of uniqueness. Zuba (Mac), Alex’s father, is the ruler of this particular part of Africa. His reign has been plagued by the conniving of fellow lion, Makunga (Baldwin). He’ll use the return of Alex to gain control of the crown. When Alex fails a coming of age ritual, Zuba abdicates and Makunga is in control. Unfortunately, his reign is soon threatened by the dry up of the watering hole. Alex, intent on proving himself, sets out to return the flow of water to the hole. With Marty by his side, they trace the problem to a dam, built by New York tourists that include the old lady who gave Alex a whoopin’ in the first film. Ninja Nana has organized the tourists who have been stranded by the penguins’ commando raids to salvage parts to repair the plane. While Alex and Marty set out to fix the problem, King Julien has another plan. He wants to sacrifice someone to the mighty volcano to please the “water gods”. Thinking he’s dying anyway, and has lost Gloria, Melman volunteers to be fed to the volcano. These events all converge into an ending very much a Madagascar adventure. For a running time less than an hour and a half, there is no wasted time at all here. If anything, the story all seems to happen so fast that it’s over before you start to sink your teeth into it.
It’s obvious that these characters aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The ending leaves little doubt that a Madagascar 3 is an inevitability. There are still many adventures to be had here. They could remain in Africa or attempt yet another return home, and the possibilities are endless. The gang could find itself in Australia or China, or any number of places on the globe. Sure, you have to suspend your belief to its limits, but we dealing with talking animals here. That’s my hope for the future of these characters. I’d like to see them do the fish out of water thing again and visit another place on the globe. The blend of culture and opportunity for new and exciting characters means that Dreamworks can milk this cash cow for at least a couple more films before returning the gang back to the zoo. Maybe the title becomes a bit irrelevant, but so what? The penguins are already appearing in their own shorts that take place back at the zoo. I’m assuming this takes place upon their eventual return, as King Julien is there now as well. Whatever happens, I’m going to be looking forward to more adventures, as long as they can keep the voice talent intact and maintain the same animation standards.
Madagascar 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The first thing you’ll notice is how sharp and detailed the picture is. The hair on Alex’s mane is about the best I’ve seen since Monsters, Inc. Next, you’ll be amazed at the black levels. Check out the black sheen on the penguins. You’ll see such texture and detail that it will be hard to believe that it’s also rich in completely solid black. Finally, you’ll marvel at the level of contrast. Marty’s zebra qualities are a good place to observe the tight distinction between lights and darks. There are moments the film approaches photo real imagery. Plus there is the wonderful rendering of water and dust I’ve already told you about. While this image doesn’t approach what you’ll get on Blu-ray, the same amazing qualities apply. This is as good as standard definition gets.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track was not near as impressive. I didn’t get full immersive sound as I would have liked. Don’t get me wrong. The clarity and dynamic range here is outstanding. The musical cues are perfect. There just isn’t a solid use of surrounds here. This seems to be a complaint in general with animated films. I get the impression that audio techs are reluctant to apply the same rules regarding ambient sounds that you get in a live action film. That seriously needs to be reevaluated. This film is almost 3-D in its presentation. We’ll accept the reality of the situation enough to appreciate better ambient effects. Dialog is correctly placed and always clear.
Most of the features can be found on the disc with the feature. There is also a separate “Penguins” disc available in this release. Those features will be listed after the standard features.
The Animators Corner: This is a trivia pop-up option you can turn on. During the film the animators will pop on the screen and fill you in with certain tidbits about what you are seeing. These things are always too distracting for me.
Trivia Track: Again it’s a running informative feature.
The Making Of…: At just 11 minutes this feature doesn’t go into the detail I would have liked to see. Here the cast and crew talk about the distinctive style of the Madagascar world and how they worked to bring it off in the film. The crew went to Africa to get a feel of the real environments and particularly the way light works there. We also get a look at the technology of making the film.
It’s A Family Affair: This 9 minute feature deals with the cast of the film. They’re all back along with some wonderful new voices. Bernie Mac is one of the best additions, that unfortunately won’t be repeated in future films. We lost The Mac Man back in August of 2008.
Crash Landings: This 3 minute piece looks at all of the elements that went into the plane crash sequence. It’s fun to watch the animators acting the crash out to get an idea of what it might look like. These guys really get into their work.
African Adventure: This 7 minute piece looks at the crew’s trip to Africa with plenty of footage from their excursion.
Jambo Jambo – Swahili Speak: Using clips from this film this is a primer on some basic Swahili words. I’m not sure the young target audience will have the patience, but it’s a noble effort at adding an educational element to the mix.
On the bonus disc you get the following:
The Bronx Zoo: This 8 minute visit with the new Madagascar exhibit at the Bronx Zoo features zoo personnel. They take us on a tour of the exhibit, and we meet real Madagascar animals.
More Penguins: Two 12 minute shorts from the Penguins television show. Popcorn Panic gives the guys a new commando mission when the zoo cracks down on the visitors feeding popcorn to the animals. Gone In A Flash involves King Julien and a digital camera.
The Heart Of The Lion: This 12 minute feature shows us a pride of real life lions. We get to see them interact with the other animals in there setting. It’s a nice reality check.
Alex’s Dance Off: Hey, you want to learn some Alex dance steps? Me neither, but here they are anyway.
Let me set the record straight. I don’t like to “move it move it”. That song and irritating beat is one of the most obnoxious sounds I’ve heard in a film in a long time. Unfortunately, not only is it included in this film as well, but it’s also repeated over and over again during the menu options. I’ve never been more motivated to make my selection this quickly before. You might want to familiarize yourself with the options presented for this film via my handy review. I promise you it has life saving properties. Even a second less of listening to that inane chant might be the second that keeps you from going into “Move It Move It” rage. The damage to your screen could be considerable. With that slight tirade out of the way. There is a lot to Madagascar’s second outing to recommend here. It’s a sequel every bit as good as the original film. But can we stop it with the “Move it Move it”?