Eric Darnell and Tom Mcgrath
What would happen if a group of animals who’d never left the concrete confines of their zoo enclosures suddenly got thrown into their native habitats for the first time? That’s a very basic breakdown of the plotline here, when our fearsome foursome crash-land in the African plains. Immediately after the crash, our hero Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), in a huge circumstance of coincidence, is reunited with his family while Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo are all introduced to their own species as well. Each character gets their own storyline here, but Alex’s is most prominent, and it’s also the one I had the most problems with, so lets start there. In a nutshell, Alex struggles to cope with the fact that he must inherit the role of King of the land. Meanwhile, a villainous lion in the pride (the great Alex Baldwin) constantly devises schemes to sabotage both Alex and his father Zuba (the late Bernie Mac) with the intention of taking over himself. If this all sounds strangely familiar, it is. A little film called The Lion King came up with it first (and did a MUCH better job at it) 15 years ago. I couldn’t help constantly comparing the two, and The Lion King always won out. This movie never really tugged at my heartstrings like TLK did, instead opting for a much goofier tone, where monkies build airplanes and zebras listen to iPods. But that’s not to say this flick doesn't offer some fun...
One thing you notice about 'Escape 2 Africa' right from the get-go is that this film is not just for the kiddies. Obviously it’s geared toward them, but, in line with other DreamWorks animated flicks (Shrek comes to mind), this one’s laced with not-so-subtle sexual innuendos, adult themes, and other bits and pieces that’ll fly right over your toddlers’ heads. Now that I think of it, Dreamworks also seems to have a thing for black comedians playing equestrian sidekicks. Hmmm…
But I digress. The cast of this movie really gels well. Stiller and Chris Rock have great chemistry, Sasha Baron Cohen is hilarious (and unrecognizable) as a kooky lemur, and the penguins, man I love me them penguins. Whoever created these militant little wise-crackers deserves a pat on the back, as they are truly the best part of the film (Nickelodeon noticed and has now given them their own series). Will.i.Am joins the cast as the pimp of the hippo clan, and also worked with Hans Zimmer to create some catchy musical tracks that work great. There’s much more I'd love to discuss (including a BLATANT ripoff of Joe Versus the Volcano) but, you get the point. This film may not be extremely original or profound, but it's still worth a hoot and a holler.
Filmmakers Commentary: The producers and directors weigh in here. They tend to reminisce and reflect rather than explain or educate, mostly complimenting each other on how well the film turned out. This track does show though just how many people and how much time go into the making of an animated film. Suffice it to say...A LOT.
"It’s a Family Affair": The Cast of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (9:11):Cast members discuss their characters and we get to see them in the sound booths recording dialogue that is fun to watch. Also includes a very sweet tribute to Bernie Mac.
The Making of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (11:03): Like the title suggests, an insight into the making of the film. Shows how much painstaking detail goes into the creation of a computer animated film. Good…LORD.
Crash Landing (3:37): A hilarious and very cool featurette about what went into the making of the plane crash sequence, which itself was hilarious and very cool, so, there ya go.
African Adventure (7:16): A feature about the filmmakers in pre-production traveling to the real Africa (apparently it’s an actual place). They discuss how the trip affected their filmmaking and how they modeled the film off of what they saw and learned. Consider me jealous.
Jambo Jambo: Swahili Speak (1:42): A brief lesson on how to say a few words and phrases in Swahili. Pretty cool. Although I learned that the Swahili word for 'lion' is Simba. So in The Lion King, Mufasa named his son ‘Lion’. Makes me wonder what some of the other names meant...
Test Flight of Air Penguin Game: If this is an actual game coming out for purchase, it is the worst game I have ever played. Seriously. Slow, boring, confusing. Your kids will hate it.
Mad Music: A video jukebox that contains music videos from a ton of Dreamworks’ animated films. Also 4 short music vids from this film, including a sing-a-long to Will.i.Am’s catchy theme. I’m going to go download it now. (Legally of course.)
You also get a handful of Trailers from DreamWorks.
“The Penguins of Madagascar” (24:00): We are treated to an episode of the new series on Nickelodeon featuring everyone’s favorite penguins (and lemurs and monkies). It’s broken down into two short stories; “Popcorn Panic” and “Gone in a Flash”. The animation is understandably not as sharp as the film and the scripts aren’t quite as funny, but the kids will no doubt love this. Personally I think the penguins are funnier in small doses.
The Heart of a Lion (11:57): A nice little mini-doco about a pride of lions in one specific area of Tanzania. A bit narration-heavy and over-simplified, but I dug it.
Madagascar at The Bronx Zoo (8:14): A pop-up video style tour of the new Madagascar exhibit at The Bronx Zoo, led by the zoo’s director. We get to see a lot of animals and learn a bunch of fun facts. Kinda cool but I’d rather see these animals in the wild.
Mad Activities: A couple video game demos to be played on your PC. Apparently they didn’t care to include us Mac users, so I was unable to take ‘em for a test drive. I’m filing a complaint.
Alex’s Dance-Off (3:28): A short little “how-to” for those kiddies who want to replicate Alex the lion’s dance moves.