The world of CGI has been rather interesting over the last decade, thanks to Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar rolling out films that appeal to children and adults alike. The children have enjoyed the pretty colors and funny jokes, while the adults were able to appreciate the very subtle adult language and situations that were allowed to make the cut. Madagascar was more of a straight up adventure for the kiddies, but so what? Although the humor was geared for five year olds almost exclusively, it was silly, zany fun that I enjoyed quite a bit. If you're with me on this, then you're going to find Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa a worthwhile experience from beginning to end!
If you've seen the first film, you already know you have a product that's fairly basic in the character development department, as well as sporting a primitive plot. It's not often a film can get away with lacking these vital storytelling elements, but with enough pizzazz to make you feel like you're on one of the most fun roller coaster's of your life, all can be forgiven. This is a film for children, after all.
Alex, Gloria, Marty and Melman, have enjoyed the glorious habitat they invaded in the name of freedom long enough. Although they couldn't have been happier to find companionship in a tribe of lemurs, and enjoy the beautiful landscape they stumbled upon... they can't help but miss New York.
It may have been a little constricting for them to live in a zoo, but they were stars back home! They loved being able to provide a little showmanship to the humans of the Big Apple, especially Alex. He would pose and dance until every mind in the audience was blown. The population of New York thought of Alex as the crown jewel of the zoo, a main attraction. You could even say he was the king of the urban jungle!
When the crew crash lands in Africa however, the very idea of 'unique' that they've associated with themselves changes dramatically.
Once again, take Alex for example. He's reunited with his father Zumba, as well as his tribe. Not having been raised in that particular community, Alex doesn't understand that the only way he can prove himself is to be a lion of combat, not a lion of performance. Unfortunately, dancing is all Alex knows how to do.
Gloria the hippo is being wined and dined by the local hippo stud. She's finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel of love, and Melman the giraffe struggles as he watches the love of his life slip away. He's always loved Gloria, but it appears he's missed his chance.
Marty is a quick talkin' zebra that's full of flash and style, and he's always prided himself on being unique. Finding an endless supply of zebras in Africa, Marty puts his mindset of singularity aside so he can frolic with his own kind. His self esteem unexpectedly takes a serious punch in the gut however. The more he hangs with his posse, the more he realizes he isn't unique. Not unique? Heck, that's even a bit of an understatement! He's the antithesis of unique, he's practically a clone!
It's not all about cry babies and hurt feelings though. There's a sinister plot that has a chance to develop once everyone is distracted from trying to heal their bruised egos.
Makunga is a lion that's been waiting to take the reigns as the supreme alpha male for a long time, and he's behind most of the shenanigans that have been set into motion. Now he's pouncing on the opportunity to embarrass Alex and Zumba, so that he can take the crown for himself once and for all.
For those of you that are fans of the espionage penguins, there's no need to fear! They get quite a bit of screen time on this second go round.
Their subplot deals with being in charge of fixing the plane so that they can eventually get back to New York. It's not easy scavenging for spare parts though, as there's a group of stranded New York tourists that are scared and lost nearby, and they'll do anything to protect themselves from any living thing that moves!
So, as I said, the plot isn't the most creative premise by any means. That's not to say there aren't some good things to come out of it though. In fact, I quite like the message this film conveys.
We live in a society where everything has been mandated to be politically correct. Everyone is special, everyone is unique, there are no losers, and you can live happily ever after with anyone you desire.
I feel that our society has gotten out of control, especially when it comes to children. I mean, they don't even keep track of wins or score in baseball anymore! I'm not trying to bore you with social commentary here, but why do their feelings have to be protected now more than ever?
Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa relays the message that, hey, you're probably not as unique as you think you are. No worries though! Just because you're another person in a massive sea of faces, doesn't mean there aren't qualities that make you who you are. You may not be unique as a person, but you're still unique as an individual, and it's OK that you're not exactly 'special'!
It's not going to be everyone that takes this message away from the film. Most people will probably see the more straight forward message, which says that if you have some good friends while you're down in the dumps, you can overcome pretty much anything. The other straightforward message says that you can find love in the most surprising places.
If you don't happen to care for either of the messages that can be taken away from this film, then you should give this movie a spin anyway.
The entire movie, from the first frame to the last, is a wildly fun ride. The movie looks gorgeous, there are plenty of funny moments, and it's a movie the entire family can sit down and watch together. You'll be able to watch this movie with your kid/kids without wanting to nitpick it apart every step of the way. Flawed as a film it may be, but it's simply too much fun to deny!
If you've seen the first Madagascar and thought it was serviceable or better, then you're probably going to enjoy the second installment even more than the first. I know I certainly did! This film, although still geared towards the kiddies, makes a better attempt at being adult friendly while piling a better abundance of laughs than the first film.
This is presented in a resolution of 1080p at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa was encoded using AVC.
The first time I had the chance to see this film was on a big IMAX screen. The clarity and detail was absolutely stunning, and the same can be said for this Blu-ray release, and that could even be an understatement!
The sharpness, clarity, detail, contrast, black levels... they're all spot on. The picture is razor sharp without ever overdoing it. The detail in the CGI is seemingly infinite. Black levels are as good as you can get, and the numerous daytime scenes are represented brightly and without any sort of faded look. There's no digital noise, no macro blocking, nothing. The color penetrates so well, it's practically leaping out at you. The end result is a video presentation that's one of the finest looking Blu-ray pictures we've seen yet.
I know it's no surprise that a current Blu-ray title can look this darn good, especially when the film was crafted to be shown on the BIG big screen. Since you're taking a digital image and putting it onto a digital product, it's hard to screw it up... but we've all seen examples of how certain companies can screw it up.
You would expect a high def image to look this good from a Disney/Pixar title, but it seems that Dreamworks really outdid themselves with this one, especially since there's also no sign of EE either! Even if you're not the biggest fan of the Madagascar franchise, this is demo worthy material, if not the demo material... for now at least.
Sound can really be a big factor in an animated film, or it can be given less attention than it really deserves. Fortunately, lots of attention was paid to providing a worthwhile auditory experience for Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa, and that much is clear on the equally as stunning Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track!
The dialogue is as clear and realistic as it can be. However, it hasn't been easy to find a Blu-ray that had any truly terrible dialogue, so let's talk about the real strong points from this track.
The experience is simply enveloping. There's not a hint of realism in the film visually, and that's obviously intentional. You're going to feel like you're in the thick of the fun and adventure though, because the rears get quite a bit of use.
There are some moments in the film that really put your surround system to the test. The difference between quite and loud scenes is surprisingly dynamic, as there's never a hiccup when going from one extreme to the other. When the movie is delivering some adventurous thrills, you're going to be surprised at the lows you're going to hear, as well as how much you're going to hear going on around you from any given direction.
Even when the movie isn't trying to impress us with its audio during its big scenes, there's still a bit going on in the rear channels for some superb directionality.
This is a top notch lossless track, and once again, Dreamworks has outdone themselves!
Audio Commentary with Directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, and Producers Mireille Soria and Mark Swift - This is a pretty informative commentary. With four people on the mic, you're not going to be hearing a lot of silence, that's for sure! There's a lot of discussion about the production aspects of the film, as well as continually crafting the story to be the best it can be. It's all pretty interesting, but there's only so much interest you can have towards the production of an animated film, ya know? The technical aspects can get a little tiresome at times, but all in all, this isn't a bad commentary by any means.
The Animators' Corner - If you absolutely can't stand audio commentaries, or you just don't have a lot of time to check out every supplement this disc has to offer, then you better use this as your commentary substitute. On top of the commentary, we now have a rather decent Picture-in-Picture footage that relates to the film. You'll be able to see a lot of the early artwork, as well as it what it progresses into right up to the final product. With visual flare to accompany the commentary track, there's no doubt about it, this is the way to go. The entertainment value can still be a little tiresome now and again, but at least there's something to show for it here.
Trivia Track - I'm not sure who's going to want to sit around and do some trivia, but for those of you that wouldn't mind testing what you know about the film after seeing the supplements, it's certainly not a terrible feature. If you spent that much time seeing and hearing everything, why not?
Production Featurettes - There are four featurettes here, and each one of them focuses on a different aspect of the work that ultimately came together to make Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa:
It's a Family Affair: The Cast of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa doesn't wow or pizzazz you with lengthy cast interviews. There's hardly any insight at all. If you're one that likes to see the talent do their thing behind the mic, then give this featurette a whirl. One has to ask though, why anyone would want to see this. It's not as if the actors involved are really doing anything outrageous with their voice, so who cares? This is pretty much a throw away featurette.
The Making of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa - This is a making of featurette, yet it's only about eleven minutes long. Predictably, there's some cast and crew discussion as well as some behind the scenes stuff, but it's all so minimal this really isn't worth watching.
Crash Landing - One of the 'big' scenes from the film is laid out from storyboard to finish.
African Adventure - The last of the four production featurettes, this one focuses on the minds behind the film taking a trip in Africa. Their hopes were to see how things roll in the nature of Africa, so that they might provide the best experience possible for the audience through authenticity. It's an animated film though, is anyone going to point out negligible details anyway?
Jambo Jambo - Swahili Speak - A brief glance at the basic of Swahili. This featurette isn't even a full two minutes in length however, so don't expect a lot.
The Bronx Zoo: Madagascar - This is a look at an actual Madagascar exhibit at the Bronx zoo. It seems more like filler material (surprise, surprise), but this is one of the throw away featurettes I didn't mind watching. Maybe it's just because I can watch this and say, "Oh! I can go see that?!", and be all happy and giddy at the idea.
More Penguins - We have a couple of short films here that showcase the... I'm actually not going to dignify this with a completion! It's pretty self explanatory. They're pretty funny, although these are more geared for the kiddies than the actual film itself was, and for good reason too! These are only 11-12 minutes a piece, and together make up a half hour time slot (minus commercials). They're a sneak preview of a television series coming to Nickelodeon in March. Because they're geared for the kiddies, average movie goers may not find these to be as entertaining as the film itself, because the penguins were good enough as comic relief. An entire series devoted to them? Not so sure about that...
Test Flight of Air Penguins - Game - You're right in the thick of it with the penguins, trying to keep the plane from crashing and burning. Like most home video digital games, it's not worth the disc space it's encoded on. Skip it!
Alex's Dance Off - At a few minutes in length, you get a crash course in learning some of Alex's dance moves.
Also included are six music videos for the film, some trailers, and the Dreamworks Animation Video Jukebox, which features music from other Dreamworks films to sing along to.
The featurettes are mostly dull and pointless, but I guess that's about what you could expect. After all, I'm sure these are all geared towards children. At least there's a completely serviceable commentary track, as well as a Picture-in-Picture one, as well as a trivia track! All in all though, you won't miss out on anything if you decide not to partake in the rest of the features.
Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa is a movie that may have some fundamental flaws in its ability to tell an amazing story, or add some real depth to the characters. Be that as it may, there are fun times that can be enjoyed by all. If you're entertained by the likes of Ice Age, you'll find this to not only be just as fun a film, but you'll find it's better than the original from which it was birthed.
There's no reason to fear making a purchase on this Blu-ray title. The video and audio presentation is one to be beat, and these aspects of the release more than make up for the ho-hum extras.
If you want a film you can shut your brain off to, and end up being pleasantly surprised at just how much of a good time it was, then Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa comes highly recommended without reservation. It's a heck of a ride, and the disc itself is demo worthy. What more could you ask for?