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madagascar escape 2 africa
THE STUDIO GATE
Well call me a surprised Blu-ray critic, because I actually enjoyed watching "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa." Cynical going into the movie, I came out appreciating its virtues and really liking how it was animated.

"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. This is a review of the Blu-ray disc.

The original "Madagascar" was a case of DreamWorks Animation's penchant for using big time stars to sell its animated movies. It relied too much on trying to be cute and hip with mostly thin characters to follow. The jokes were predictable and so was the story. To my inner movie critic horror, it was announced that a sequel was on the way. Oh boy, I said, Hollywood has officially run out of idea when they can make a sequel to a mediocre movie like "Madagascar."

When the sequel came out during Thanksgiving 2008, I let my brother-in-law take my daughter to see it. I had no desire to sit and watch the antics of Alex the Lion, Melman the Giraffe, Marty the Zebra & Gloria the Hippo. Then I began to hear that the movie was better than the original. It's usually says a lot about a movie when people say that the sequel was better.

The sequel is better, and I'm not gritting my teeth as I write that. A much better story and better fleshing out of the main characters gives "Escape 2 Africa" a heart, something that the original didn't really have. The characters don't run around for the next 89 minutes calling out each other's names in replacement of good dialogue. There's a genuine connection between the characters and the story in which they are involved. This is a sequel that honestly trumps the original. It makes me wonder, with all the talent used on the original movie, why the script wasn't fleshed out more.

Part two begins with a baby version of Alex the Lion being chased down by poachers. Caught in a crate, he ends up out at sea and floats to New York City where he becomes a sensation. Flashforward to Madascar, he and his crazy friends (along with those tricky penguins) plan to fly back to New York City. Of course, they don't make it there and end up in Africa instead. The even meet up again with that crazy grandma.

Surprisingly well done is the relationship between Alex (Ben Stiller) and his father Zuba (Bernie Mac). The riff on "The Lion King" isn't lost on this story element, but it does work without getting too sappy. (And I know that "The Lion King" itself took a lot of ideas from previous movies and stories.) One of the problems with "Madagascar" was its reliance on too many characters and too many ideas. "Escape 2 Africa" handles almost every single character much better.

There are quite a few jokes and thankfully they're not all crude. I don't know about you, but I'm old school when it comes to children's movies. I know that today's kids are supposedly more sophisticated and can handle a fart joke or two. My generation of kids was perhaps the first to see movies with more adult situations and violence, so I shouldn't even be judging what kids today see. Yet, "Escape 2 Africa" is a movie that I wasn't raising my eyebrow to. It's mostly free of the typical DreamWorks use of crude humor.

The animation is exquisite and very colorful and dimensional. We've come a long way from the hard-angled characters in "Antz." This is a good looking movie that features some fine digital cinematography with nice use of lighting. The score, by Hans Zimmer, doesn't override the film, and the use of pop songs are actually used to benefit the storyline. I thought using an 8-track tape of Boston's "More Than A Feelin'" was fun.

The Blu-ray will knock your eyes out of your head, and I mean that as a compliment. Digital animation, in general, lends itself well to high definition. There are some scenes where the backgrounds look so clear you could touch them. One scene I noticed had lots of detail in a watering hole in the distance. Jeffrey Katzenberg is fond of pushing 3-D presentation into the public's eye, but this film shows you don't need funky 3-D glasses to see dimension on the screen.

The Dolby TrueHD sound is fine but nothing overwhelming. Some scenes feature passages of dialogue, music and sound effects that are loud, but they won't cause you duck under your recliner (though your children might). The film is nicely mixed and appropriate for the story.

"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" shows that sometimes a sequel can be a good thing.


Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: DreamWorks. All rights reserved.
Blu-ray Quick Glimpse

cover



MOVIE

Much, much better than the original film

TALENT
Director: Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath  

Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bernie Mac, Sasha Baron Cohen 

FEATURES
"The Penguins of Madagascar," video game (HD) and more HD features

RATING
PG

BLU-RAY
Picture: Excellent
Sound: Excellent

GEEK OUT
The visual detail and animation is amazing

TECH SPECS
Aspect Ratio (1.85:1)

Dolby TrueHD

BLU
-RAY RELEASE DATE
February 6, 2009
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