Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
What we see first is a snapshot of the past. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa backs up and gives audiences a glimpse of how the famous lion Alex was separated from his family and made his way from the African savannah to the Central Park Zoo. After that, there's a head-spinning recap of the first movie.
When the story starts marching forward again, Alex and his zoo buddies Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippopotamus and Melman the giraffe are stranded, it turns out, in the same place they were at when we last saw them—Madagascar. But with the "help" of some devious penguins, they're getting ready to take off in a decrepit airliner and return to their "real" home, New York City.
They don't make it nearly that far.
After a frenetic Mayday moment, the zoo crew—along with new friends King Julian, Maurice and Mort—land violently on the plains of Africa. As chance would have it, they've plopped down right in the middle of the animal reserve that's home to the lion pride led by Alex's dad.
It's a strange and emotional reunion for the whole family. Alex can't remember anything about his life before the zoo. Dad (whose name is Zuba) and Mom (who, for some reason, doesn't have a name) have been certain for years that their son was killed by hunters. Suddenly, they're a family again. And Alex isn't the only one who has found a new sense of community and belonging. Marty experiments with living in a herd with hundreds of other zebras. Gloria begins dating a hunky hippo named Moto Moto. And hypochondriac Melman's dream comes true when he's appointed the physician for his new giraffe posse.
Shortly after the joyous lion family reunion, Makunga, the jealous second-lion-on-the-totem-pole, forces Zuba to choose between banishing his son and making him take part in a rite of passage ritual that will put his life in danger. To Zuba, the answer seems simple. His son is a king—the King of New York. Surely it's no problem for Alex to prove his mettle by killing a rival lion.
There's only one problem: Alex has never fought anything in his life. OK, maybe two problems: He also thinks the rite of passage is a dance contest.
Like the first Madagascar, this installment highlights the importance of friendship. Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria all remain loyal to one another, even when their relationships are challenged by circumstances and their own selfish choices.
Though he is at first thrilled to have other zebra buddies around, Marty ultimately struggles with getting lost in the crowd, and he wonders whether there's anything unique and special about himself. Alex is able to reassure his friend that he's "one in a million." On the flip side, Alex has a tendency to become self-focused and think of his own problems as more important than others' trials. So Marty gives him a much-needed reality check, and Alex ends up asking Marty's forgiveness for his inability to see past the end of his own digitally animated nose.
Gloria learns that flattery does not equal love. And timid Melman rises to the occasion when a heroic sacrifice is called for.
Besides Alex's relationships with his friends, his renewed familial connection is a major force in the movie. It's clear from the flashback scene that Zuba and Alex had a special bond, and that Dad is devastated when he loses his young son. After they're reunited, they discover that they now have very little in common. Still, Mom and Dad let Alex know that they're proud of him and that they're thrilled to have him back. Alex earns his father's respect when he puts his own life at risk for the good of the pride. And, ultimately, Dad learns to appreciate and respect his son's interests and abilities, even though they're not typical lion interests and abilities—Alex is a dancer, not a fighter.
(That's good stuff. But documenting it doesn't hint at an interwoven and parallel message about acceptance and tolerance—of every kind of behavior. So I'll explain more in my "Conclusion.")
When Melman finds his calling in animal medicine, it's actually as a strange cross between a medical doctor and a witch doctor. The other giraffes call him a witch doctor, and make him dress in appropriate tribal garb, but the things we see him doing—splinting a broken leg and untying a badly kinked elephant trunk—isn't at all bedeviled.
When the only watering hole in the animal reserve dries up, King Julian, a quirky lemur from Madagascar, proposes making a live animal sacrifice to the "water gods" who supposedly live in the nearby volcano. It's not clear if he really believes in those gods or not. Nonetheless, the sacrifice is made (ultimately not in the way Julian intends) and water comes rushing down the previously dry riverbed. The two events are completely unrelated, but the residents of the reserve believe that Julian has called down a miracle. (So does he.)
Julian makes strange, unsettling and vaguely sexual comments such as, "I'm a lady. Which of you is attracted to me?" (while wearing a coconut bra and grass skirt). He also commands, "Bring me my nuts on a silver platter." (He's referring to food, but it's clearly a double entendre.) The penguins possess "blackmail" pictures of Julian snuggling up to a doll. Julian also makes a somewhat veiled sexual gesture.
Early on, Gloria announces that when they get back to the zoo, she "might sign up for the breeding program." So she's all for it when Moto Moto (whose name supposedly means "hot hot") starts to fancy her. The two talk in low, sexy voices and exchange compliments about heir respective "hugeness" while taking a moonlit swim.
Animals shake their rumps for the camera. A passing reference is made to "kissing your sister." A male monkey mockingly plants a kiss on a male penguin.
There are several episodes of lions battling each other. These are pretty tamely portrayed, considering what a lion fight actually entails. Giant cats swat each other with powerful paws, pin each other to the ground and toss each other (hard!) against large rocks, but they don't slash each other with their claws or tear at each other with their teeth.
The tough granny who made a brief appearance in the first film comes back for more in the second, repeatedly facing off with the animals. She punches Alex in the face (he loses a tooth), kicks him and twists his nipple, among other things. He in turn smacks her around before stealing her cell phone. The penguins throw her from a speeding vehicle, then, pondering whether or not she's still alive, they decide to go back and run her over. (She bounces off the bumper.) She's into walloping folks with her handbag, and her final assault includes firing a shotgun at Zuba and Alex. Before that, she leads a group of lost New Yorkers in capturing Alex and trying to roast him alive.
As mentioned, the penguins violently crash an old airliner. In the aftermath, the crew chief announces that two passengers are unaccounted for. A penguin menacingly pops open a switchblade. Later, one stages his own death by purposely getting hit by a car and them decorating himself with ketchup.
Hunters shoot at Zuba and knock him down but don't kill him. The mama lion squashes a lightning bug to put out the lights in their cave. Filling the screen with its huge teeth, a shark repeatedly tries to eat Mort—until it falls to its death in a fiery volcano. Alex punches a birds' nest to take out his frustration and is repaid with the wrath of its inhabitants.
Crude or Profane Language
The phrase "kiss your a-- good-bye" is strategically interrupted by a minor explosion. In the middle of her tussle with Alex, Nana uses her middle finger to adjust her glasses. (It's not completely clear whether this is mere coincidence or intended as an obscene gesture.) "Jeez," "heck," "darn" and "oh snap" make their way to the screen, as does the unfinished interjection "what the ..." There are a handful of uses of "freaks" and "butt." Name-calling includes "loser" and "stupid." "Batteries" serves as a euphemism for a guy's crotch.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Gloria sips from a glass that resembles a tropical-style mixed drink. There are bottles of champagne on the plane.
Other Negative Elements
In the "better warn the kiddos not to try this at home" category, Nana jumpstarts a fire with hairspray. The penguins steal two vehicles from humans. Animals pick their own noses, and then they exchange and eat the results. Fat jokes fly fast and furious—some of them sexually laced—when the hippos go on a date.
Spouting phrases such as, "It's nothing personal, it's just that [I'm] better than you," Julian is elitist in a way that adults will get, but kids won't. And if they pick up Julian's phraseology without understanding his irony, they'll end up repeating some mean and embarrassing things.
A penguin gets married to his beloved bobble-head doll.
The original Madagascar is a mildly funny flick—with a few content issues—that showcases a simple story about the importance of friendship and self-sacrifice. Its successor is also mildly funny, includes a few more content issues and tries to tackle a more complex theme.
Co-director Tom McGrath told Plugged In Online that the main thrust of his film is, "Value who you are. You should pursue your dreams, whether you want to be an astronaut or a song-and-dance man or whatever, you should go for it and you should be proud of it. That's the core story. As a kid, you want these things, but you also need validation from your parents. ... If there is any kind of message to take home, I guess that would be it."
If Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa stopped there, I could stop here. But it doesn't quite. Mixed in are bits of animated guidance that tell moviegoers that "love has no boundaries" and "love transcends all differences." What's wrong with that? Nothing. And something. Context is everything, and more often that not the context of a film extends into the world around it. In a culture gradually deciding to embrace any kind of love (homosexual, polyamory and polygamist relationships, cohabitation), this film gives viewers the impression that any kind of love is OK. In fact, it's better than OK. A giraffe can love a hippo. A penguin can love and get married to a wooden toy.
Flashback scenes show us that Alex was "a strange one" from a young age. And they provide a built-in commentary on the film's climactic reconciliation between Zuba and his son, reinforcing the idea that parents need to accept any way in which their children decide to be different, without ever trying to encourage responsible or even moral change.
On one hand, children desperately need to be affirmed and loved by their parents, regardless of any difference or disagreement between them. On the other, it's not true that all kinds of love are grand or all kinds of behavior are great. God places beneficial boundaries around romantic love. And while it's sometimes difficult to express acceptance of a person and give guidance about behavior at the same time, it's essential to try.
In its pell-mell quest to be cool, have fun and embrace vibrant individuality, Madagascar 2 doesn't look for that balance.