In 2005, Madagascar ambled into our cinemas as just one of countless computer-animated kids’ films featuring talking animals getting into scrapes. It’s tale of a bunch of New York zoo animals who end up having to fend for themselves in the jungles of Africa, following the Shrek mould of chucking in movie references in an attempt to appeal to adult audiences, and on the surface had little to make it stand out amidst the seemingly never-ending line of similar talking animal animations that the last decade has brought us. Yet somehow, something clicked. It wasn’t a classic, certainly, but something about the ninja-style penguins, or perhaps the talented voice cast – principally Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sacha Baron Cohen – helped it to rise above the herd.
Little wonder, then, that three years on we’re getting a sequel – and just in time for prime children’s movie season of the Christmas holidays. Un-baked Africa may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of this time of year, but hell – movies have always been about escapism. Who wouldn’t like to dream of sunshine and palm trees at this time of year?
Fully aware of the old law of diminishing returns when it comes to movie sequels, the team behind Madagascar 2 have looked to spice things up a bit. While retaining the same duo of directors (one of whom was behind the sorely underrated animated Woody Allen kids’ film Antz from back in 1998), they’ve revamped the writing team to ensure that this latest African adventure is as madcap and joke-packed as possible. The man they’ve turned to? The writer of Ben Stiller’s recent madcap comedy Tropic Thunder.
Considering how silly and fun Tropic Thunder was – not to mention how packed with movie references, what with being a spoof of Hollywood war films – the arrival of Etan Cohen as screenwriter can only be a good thing. Though don’t get too excited – that is not a typo, this is a different chap entirely from Ethan Coen, one half of the lauded Coen Brothers. Nonetheless, he’s got a good track record, having also penned the underrated Idiocracy last year, which was packed with inventive riffs on all manner of time-travel and sci-fi movies.
Plot-wise, little wonder that this is largely more of the same. Having somehow got through their adventures on the island of Madagascar in the last film, this second outing sees the old zoo animals attempt to make it back to the civilization of New York, having got homesick for being waited on hand and foot, even if it did mean they were behind bars. With the help of that crazy gang of penguins that ran away with the last film, they set off in an animal-built airplane – only to (perhaps unsurprisingly) swiftly crash-land, this time deep in the heart of Africa proper.
By chance, they land very near to where Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) originally came from, and soon meet up with his old – and wild – family. But can they make friends with this very different set of animals, and will they ever find their way home? Well, with jokes as fun and characters as enjoyable as this, we have to hope the answer to the latter question is “not soon” – and with another sequel already in the works, it looks like this is one adventure that’s not over just yet.