Friday, February 13, 2009

Blu-Ray Review: Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa

Why is it that every time you have a blockbuster movie the company needs to go and make a sequel? When was the last time this sequel was nearly as good as the first? With the sole exception of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 animated movies have never really created good sequels. Shrek two was okay, but the third was terrible. Then look at Disney, with all of their straight-to-DVD spin-offs, are any of those good? DreamWorks is like every other company in Hollywood; they are trying to milk as much out of the same story elements as possible. Guess what, just like most other sequels, Madagascar 2 falls flat on its face.

Madagascar 2 tells the story of four friends who are trying to head back to New York after escaping from it in the first movie. Why they want to go back we are never told, but I assume that free and easy food has something to do with it. They leave the island of Madagascar on a broken down airplane piloted by some interesting penguins and promptly crash in the savannas of Africa. There they encounter other creatures just like them and they start to question themselves. Don't worry, the movie doesn't get too existential; it would lose its primary audience if it did.

This posse is led by the charismatic Alex, King of New York, a lion with a dancing problem, who is voiced by Ben Stiller. The trusty best friend role is played by Marty, a zebra that is black with white stripes, who is voiced by Chris Rock. The role of comic side-kick is split between a fat hippo, Gloria, who is voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith, and a hypochondriac Giraffe, Melman, voiced by David Schwimmer.

While three of the four main characters are voiced by super-stars, the movie has a host of other stars voicing the 'minor' characters. Sacha Baron Cohen voice Julien, and annoying little rodent of some sort. Cedric the Entertainer voices Maurice, and his buddy, the late Bernie Mac, voices Zuba. The final big name voice actor is Alec Baldwin, who voices Makunga. While this list of stars makes it seem as though Madagascar 2 would be a good movie, it isn't. This is a perfect example of how movies can give great actors crap roles that even they can not overcome. The script has flaws, the plot is full of holes, and the story is shoddy at some moments. Very few actors can overcome problems like this, and not even Stiller or Rock could climb out of the holes.

You know that there is something wrong with a movie if it starts to look towards its bit characters for support. Sure, bit characters are always worthy of a laugh or two, but they rarely should become main characters or be needed to carry the story. In Madagascar 2, the penguins (what species are they anyway) and the old lady needed to step in and carry the story. Both of these characters, while funny, should never have left their bit character locations and really did little to add to the story. They were needed plot elements, but they were relied on far too much. This is an indication for how badly conceived Madagascar 2 was.

Don't get me wrong, Madagascar 2 didn't do everything badly. In fact, the animation was exceptionally well done. Though it is not of Pixar caliber, the CG in Madagascar 2 showed very few problems and looked good. The grass swayed realistically, the manes hung freely as they should, and the few pratfalls that happened followed proper physics. Overall, the animation was exceptionally good and easily one of the best animated movies of the year. On a side note, there is a phrase used in plays and movies: if a pistol goes off in the third act, you had better show it in the first. The animators should have paid attention to this phrase, as they focus on Marty's rear in the early movie and it looks distinctly different then it does at the end. This sort of slip up is easy to make, but it shows a lacking in the editing department.

Speaking of how the movie looked, let's move onto the technical aspects of the movie. Madagascar 2 is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is you typical wide screen. The film is clear and precise, with all scenes crisp and rendered well. There is very little ghosting during the fast movement scenes (which is to be expected from CG) and the overall animation appears well on my TV. I was unable to discern any visual problems with the movie and it looked absolutely stunning.

The quality of the film in Madagascar 2 was equally good. The colors were all vibrant and they captured your attention well. The physics behind movement, which the artists seemed to work on, were displayed well as you could see each individual strand of hair move in the Alex's mane. Though there were only a few areas during the movie that included black levels, they were all done well and appeared perfectly. One of the best scenes, on the Blu-ray, is when the plane is crashing back into Africa. The smoke billows realistically and the colors and contrasts look properly done. This is a credit both to the animation and to the quality of the film, as it shows that both are well done.

The sound of Madagascar 2 is presented in Dolby TrueHD. I am starting to wonder, with all Blu-ray movies that I have seen the sound is output in Dolby sound, is there another company? Anyway, the sound is available in the normal 5.1 channels. The overall sound quality was above average and the mixing was superb. Rarely was any background sound or piece of dialog lost during the movie. Save for a few scenes where the background music got a bit too loud, the movie was easy to understand and the sound was put together well.

Madagascar 2 on Blu-ray comes with the normal extras. There is a director's commentary section, as well as two featurettes. For some reason, they chose to label an additional seven extras as vignettes, but they are essentially the same as the featurettes. There are also a few music videos to complete the selection. Overall, I do not think that many of the extras from Madagascar 2 are a deal maker on the normal DVD version of the movie. That said, on the Blu-ray version there is a special commentary from the animators which is interesting to watch. I usually do not like commentaries, but any from animators always interest me, as I find what they do fascinating. While the extras were rather useless and boring to me, I am sure that they would be appreciated by any younger person watching this movie.

Overall, I feel that Madagascar 2 is a movie to add to your collection only if you have young ones of your own or that come over often. The movie is sure to entertain them and keep them out of you hair for an hour and a half. Though the movie stumbles and the plot has holes, the quality of the animation and the film make it worth it to purchase Madagascar 2 on Blu-ray if you buy it at all.

Movie: 2/5 - the plot had holes and the movie was dull
Film Quality: 5/5 - the colors, black levels, and vibrancy of the movie were suburb
Sound Quality: 4/5 - Good mixing and quality
Extras: 3/5 - Typical extras, but could be exciting for kids
Final: 3/5 - A good movie for those with kids, but nobody else

Madagascar 2 is rated PG for some mild crude humor.


Anonymous said...

I suspect they're much less in quality in producing these sequels than than are in making profits.

That said, I haven't seen Madagascar or Madagascar 2 so I can't comment on the quality of either...

Anonymous said...

should be "'interested in' quality..." above

Barga said...

I figured as much

That is what I like about Pixar, they have a goal of not making a sequal unless they are sure that it will be as good or better than the first

Anonymous said...


Here's a movie recommendation if you haven't seen it - GRAN TORINO.

Best movie you'll see all year.

Barga said...

while it was a great movie, it was nowhere near the best of 2008


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