When I first heard of this movie coming out, I was confused. A sequel to Madagascar? It made a good amount of money, but not like mammoth Shrek numbers, and beyond that, did kids really love it that much? Apparently they do, since this is now a franchise, with the films, the spin-off series, TV specials, rides at theme parks, and so forth. It’s kind of shocking to me, considering, as I mentioned before, the four leads are some of the most boring, uninteresting protagonists I’ve ever seen in an animated film. One of the film’s few saving graces were the penguins and the monkeys, who are back in full force here for the second outing. They reconstruct the downed plane in Madagascar so the group can get home to New York, with King Julien in tow. The plane is unsafe, of course, crash landing smack dab in the middle of Africa. Alex is surprised to find his parents are there, having been taken and lost off the reserve as a small child. Ancillary things happen with the other characters, but the main story is about Alex reconnecting with his father, who is shocked to learn that being “King” of New York does not involve fighting, but actually that he’s a dynamite dancer.
This movie has like six different things going on at once, but ultimately feels like nothing is happening. It’s like a pastiche of stories, where most of them come together in the end, except it’s even clunkier than that. Alex’s story is at the forefront, leaving the other three to fend for themselves. Marty deals with feeling less unique amongst a herd of zebras that look and act just like him, Gloria goes man-hunting and lands on the brutish hunk Moto Moto, and Melman becomes the resident doctor, whilst harboring a long unrequited crush on Gloria. None of this is really interesting or purposeful. The latter two are especially disconcerting: with a perverse gruff voice of will.i.am, Moto Moto is like some kind of swarthy chubby chaser, and the whole Gloria-Melman thing is all kinda of inter-species weird, and also makes no sense whatsoever. They just had nothing for those two characters to do, so they shoved them together. Also with literally nothing to do is King Julien and Maurice, who meander about the movie dispensing wisecracks and bad advice. Maurice is especially useless; acting as Julien’s voice of reason in the first one, now he’s just kind of… there. Same with the impish Mort, was it really that important to bring everyone back?
So Alex has a birth mark on his tattoo just like his father, which is how they identify him. What is it shaped like? Africa. Of course. The first part of the movie is Alex’s father misinterpreting his talk about his New York life as being a great king, now a performer at a zoo. While it’s amusing at first, soon enough we’re waiting for the truth to be exposed, which it is in an admittedly funny scene where Alex does West Wide Story and gets his ass kicked. Zuba’s disappointment with his son’s personal choices also feels like an evident allegory for homosexual kids and their parents. Am I thinking too deep into this? I also don’t know if that’s a good thing for this movie, or just another one of the weird overhangs it has. Combined with that is bitter lion Makunga, who vies for Zuba’s position as pride leader, and uses the Alex situation to his advantage to get it. He’s basically Scar from The Lion King, except a hundred times worse of a character, the resemblance in terms of the story is almost shameless. And it’s completely toothless; Scar felt it was divine right for him to be king, and riled up an army of vicious hyenas in order to assist him in power. Makunga is just an asshole who wants a power trip, and once he’s in power, for some reason the rest of the pride does nothing about it even though they greatly outnumber him. And then he continues being a dick. He’s just a very confusing, empty character.
From the very beginning, I knew this was going to be rough. After the prologue and a brief recap of the first film, what do we open with? A big reveal of our characters singing and dancing to “We Like to Move It,” the now oft-repeated anthem of this series. It has such a tired, pandering feel to it; what you liked about the last movie, here it is again in the second! This is spoken in volumes with our other antagonist, I think. Remember that little old lady who beat up Alex at Grand Central Station? Well, she’s back again, in a big, bad way. She’s on a safari tour group who gets stranded, and she becomes their de facto leader, setting up camp in the woods and building a dam for themselves, which causes the drought down by the pride, setting up our final act. But what, a comically old Jewish lady who beats people up in a wacky fashion? It works as a quick joke in the first movie, but having her expanded as a character, and with no other traits added to her beyond that, is baffling to me. I guess the guys at the studio must have fucking loved her character, though I’m confused as to why. The whole human subplot is completely unnecessary; if they kept it Alex vs. Makunga, at least the story would have been streamlined to that point. I dunno.
Both movies got mixed critical reviews, but it boggles my mind that this one edged out in Rotten Tomatoes to a positive, at 64%. The consensus is that it’s “an improvement on the original, with more fleshed-out characters, crisper animation and more consistent humor.” Well, the animation is as lush and splendid as always, I can give it that. But while I could appreciate the first one on some level for its neat visual style and frantic pace (when it worked), all of that good will is worn out by this second outing, and what they did add feels unnecessary, empty, or at worst lifted from other, better movies. As with the first, the stuff with the penguins and monkeys are the only thing worth watching here. Between one of them pulling a switchblade on Alex for questioning their authority, to trying to mow down the old lady with a jeep, those little guys are hardcore.