Andy Bockelman: 'Madagascar' makes for good escape

Sequel operates on higher level than original movie

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As the pulsating techno beat starts up, viewers begin to "move it, move it" to the animated sequel "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa."

Central Park Zoo refugees Alex the lion (voice of Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett-Smith) finally are leaving the island of Madagascar.

An airplane renovated by their penguin associates is set to return them to New York, but penguins are flightless for a reason.

The animals crash land in the heart of an African wildlife preserve. It is here that Alex and company encounter animals just like themselves for the first time.

While Marty, Gloria and Melman connect with their respective species, Alex discovers a deeper truth about himself. The refuge is his own personal homeland, and he soon gets the chance to meet his parents (Bernie Mac, Sherri Shepherd).

The family reunion is short-lived, however, once the fellow members of the pride learn that the heir to the leadership position has lost his jungle senses.

Stiller is fine as exuberant big cat Alex, who would rather practice the dance moves that made him a zoo star than take on any responsibility in his newfound family. Rock voices not only Marty, but every other zebra in the film, emphasizing the new arrival's insecurity that he is not special when compared to his single-brained brethren.

Pinkett-Smith is considerably loud as Gloria, whose sudden interest in maternity secretly is reciprocated by hypochondriac Melman, well-personified by Schwimmer. The late Mac is good as Alex's father, Zuba, despite a character that is just a little too close to Mufasa of "The Lion King."

The all-star cast also includes Sacha Baron Cohen as the half-mad, half-insane lemur King Julien, who never fails to be far from the main quartet; Cedric the Entertainer as his enabling right-hand man, Maurice; and Alec Baldwin as Makunga, a scheming and power-hungry rival of Zuba.

The latest installment of "Madagascar" is quite a leap in quality.

The original not only was aimless and often boring in its plot, but it offered little insight into its characters. This time around, we get a glimpse into each of the major animals, making them much more appealing.

Granted, there are instances throughout the movie that are just goofy comedy purely for the sake of it - namely, lemurs who feed each other the contents of their nostrils, constant weird gender jokes and annoying, oft-repeated catchphrases such as "crack-a-lackin'" and "Baby, you plumpin'."

In spite of these weak spots, the film works because of its vastly improved story and overall allure toward the family as a whole, evidenced by Stiller's involvement in the project with his son Quinn playing Alex as a baby in a flashback.

"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" contains much of the funky humor of its predecessor, but it operates on a higher level. In other words, listen to your animal instincts when selecting a movie.

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