This Week in Movies: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Andrew Burford

Dreamworks’ split from Paramount just two months ago reminds us that computer animation has gradually become one of the most trustworthy sources of revenue in the film industry. Since its humble beginnings in 1995 with Toy Story, the genre has released 54 computer-animated films in the United States. Of those, an astounding 34 have been released in the past three years, with another 19 already scheduled to release within the next three years.

With this momentum, we’ve seen franchises born and studios rising. Pixar Animation Studios, for one, proudly boasts a filmography including the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Wall-E. Amassing 23 Oscar nominations and a domestic box office total of over $2.1 billion between nine films, Pixar is arguably the most successful animation studio in the world.

Dreamworks Animation Studios, on the other hand, lays claim to the most iconic and financially-successful franchise out there, the Shrek series. Add to that Dreamworks’ new hit franchises Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar and one can see that the ‘most successful animation studio in the world’ is a title clearly open to conjecture.

Nevertheless, after seeing Dreamworks’ Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa this weekend, I think I’ve found a winner. In the end, the superiority of a particular studio rests not only in the money it brings in but also in the audience it dares to win over. Though animated films are commonly aimed at children, Pixar has without question done more to reach out to other demographics. Put simply, it is films like this year’s Wall-E that confirm Pixar’s refusal to compromise quantity for quality, whereas films like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa only confirm Dreamworks’ greater tendency to sacrifice the latter for the former.

Having amassed over half a billion dollars worldwide, it can be assumed that the sequel to Madagascar was in all likelihood greenlit by Dreamworks after the 2005 film’s theatrical release alone. It comes as no surprise in addition that each celebrity also returned for the voices of Madagascar’s four main characters: Ben Stiller as Alex the Lion, Chris Rock as Marty the Zebra, David Schwimmer as Melman the Giraffe and Jada Pinkett-Smith as Gloria the Hippo. This time around the gang is stuck in the African wilderness, only to witness the reunification of Alex with his long-lost parents.

Unfortunately, there is little else necessary to mention about Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa for anyone over the age of 10. As an open-minded filmgoer, even I was very, very disappointed. The film undoubtedly lacked what so many animated films have come to be known for: a heart, a pulse or any sign of life and spirit outside of its target demographic. Instead, it felt like the producers were literally taking money from that audience rather than giving them something legitimate to offer in return.

As a result, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa proves that even Dreamworks has its flaws. Though the studio’s June release of Kung Fu Panda was satisfying on both fronts, this film will be a commercial hit but not a treasured memory.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is playing at the Hamilton Theater now.