There's a kind of unspoken child-parent agreement underlying "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," the sequel to the enormously successful DreamWorks adventure and a film that hews close to the whole "Lion King"/species-as-destiny/self-fulfillment paradigm. Don't tell anybody ...
Moms and dads and kids will all go, nod approvingly as Alex the Lion ( Ben Stiller), Gloria the Hippo ( Jada Pinkett Smith), Marty the Zebra ( Chris Rock) and Melman the Giraffe ( David Schwimmer) find themselves via group identity, after crash-landing on the African savanna. Parents can feel good, because the message (although a bit tribal) is about everyone being different and special. Kids can tolerate the gooey stuff, perhaps while text-messaging.
But all anyone wants to watch are the crazy penguins, the mad Jewish woman with the purse and King Julien the Meerkat (Sacha Baron Cohen), all of whom inject this Eric Darnell/Tom McGrath-directed comedy with crazy energy and real laughs.
It's no secret in Hollywood that big-name stars are cast in these animated epics so studios will have talk-show-acceptable celebrities plugging the movies on TV. But "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" - in which the animals of the original film crash-land in their species' homeland - shows what really works in these things (and augments the state-of-the-art animation): As Skipper, the mad lead penguin, director McGrath is comically possessed; as Nana, the animals' nemesis, Elisa Gabrielli is incongruous and hysterical, and Cohen is a scream. So put up with the life lessons, and wait for the laughs.
PLOT The zany, onetime denizens of the Central Park Zoo get back to their roots - on the African savanna.
CAST Voices of Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Typical tale of self-discovery, punctuated by genuine hilarity and top-flight animation.
You can bank on $equels
The first "Madagascar" in 2005 grossed $193,595,521 at the box office. If history is any guide, "Escape 2 Africa" should earn substantially more. Here's how some recent animated films and their sequels have done at the box office.
Toy Story (1995) - $191,796,233
Toy Story 2 (1999) - $245,852,179*
Shrek (2001) - $267,665,011
Shrek 2 (2004) - $441,226,247
Shrek the Third (2007) - $322,719,944
Ice Age (2002) - $176,387,405
Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) - $195,330,621
The Rugrats Movie (1998) - $100,494,675
The Rugrats In Paris (2000) - $76,507,756
The Rugrats Go Wild (2003) - $39,402,572