Three years after the original “Madagascar,” the animals-on-the-run from the Central Park Zoo and their pals depart for New York on in a rickety plane operated by a canny, if pesky penguin crew and crash-land on the vast plains of Africa.
That’s just where – many years earlier – Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) was lured away from his stern father Zuba (Bernie Mac) by hunters. It’s also where Marty the motor-mouthed zebra (Chris Rock) has an identity crisis amid his lookalike brethren. Sassy, self-confident Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) finds romance with a hot-to-trot waterhole heartthrob, Moto Moto (will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas), much to the consternation of Melman, the shy, hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) who truly loves her despite their genetic differences. While the others are discovering their roots, the Lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his associate/cousin Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) are in their element with a new continent to conquer.
Then there are peripheral characters, like scheming Makunga (Alec Baldwin), who aspires to be alpha lion in Alex’s pride. And Nana (Elisa Gabrielli), the feisty old lady who beat up Alex in Grand Central Station and is now on safari in a tourist-stuffed SUV.
Amid the silly slapstick, constant jabbering and pop tunes, writer/directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, along with Etan Cohen, stick with the friendship theme as the plucky, pampered menagerie explores their emotional angst. And in the trivia trough, file the fact that Ben Stiller’s own son, Quinlan, voices Alex as a cub, while Jada Pinkett’s daughter Willow is baby Gloria. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Madagascar Escape 2 Africa” is a vivid, if scattered 6 and should satisfy kids who have been eagerly anticipating this sequel.