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Madagascar gang is back

Arthur J Pais | November 07, 2008 14:14 IST

A scene from Madagascar, Escape 2 Africa.

With the words monster hit written all over them, the gang from the animated feature Madagascar is back, with a few additional characters. This time around, they get stranded in Madagascar while trying to make their way back to their New York's Central Park home.

With the voices of some of Hollywood's popular artists including Ben Stiller [Images] and Chris Rock and sprightly animations which look gorgeous on the IMAX screens, the new DreamWorks venture offers plenty of fun -- and a fable. Though it is not as witty as the first two Shrek films, nor emotionally stirring as Finding Nemo, the kid pic Madagascar, Escape 2 Africa could fire up the box office in a big way before the new James Bond [Images] flick Quantum of Solace, already a solid hit abroad, arrived in North America November 12.

The new Madagascar will be on more than 3000 screens in North America November 7; at least 150 of those screens would be in IMAX format. Among the spectacular scenes, especially on the IMAX screen, is the one showing a huge herd of animals.

Released three years ago, Madagascar grossed $500,000 million in theatres alone worldwide. Adding the ancillary sales including DVDs and TV rights, the film's total global revenue reached $1 billion. The new film is expected to be one of the biggest hits of the year; the world of animation movies this year is currently led by Kung Fu Panda which has grossed a huge $650 million in movie theaters alone worldwide. The DreamWorks movie will hit the DVD stores within two weeks.

The sharp animation which is better than the first film gives this sequel quite a bit of extra appeal. It even has more thrills than its predecessor, especially during the first 15 minutes, with a mercenary group of penguins working overtime to revive a plane that has crashed in the jungle.

You feel in those moments you are watching an animated James Bond movie meant for young audiences. Some of the subplots don't work, dragging the film a bit and the romance between a doesn't quite work. But the film revives quickly.

Among the subplots that work well includes a group of Americans trapped in Madagascar and trying to find their way out of the wilderness. In the new film, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), the zoo-raised creatures meet species of their own kind for the very first time in Madagascar.

They are joined by their friends, not to forget King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric The Entertainer), the Penguins (Tom McGrath, Christopher Knights, Chris Miller) and the chimps (Conrad Vernon). But life is not idyllic on the beautiful island. There is leadership crisis and conflict in Madagascar and the New Yorkers are drawn into it.

The additional cast includes the late comic actor Bernie Mac playing Alex's dad, Zuba and Sherri Shepherd [Images] the mom. Zuba, the alpha male of the pride is happy to be reconnected with his long-lost son but Alec Baldwin playing Makunga wants to be the leader of the pride and sets up a scheme to exile the Zuba family.

The reason the first Madagascar film became a huge hit, according to the writer and director team of Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath was that the audiences immediately connected with its characters on a human level. 'We took on the theme of civility versus savagery and turned that into a friendship story about these zoo animals,' muses McGrath, who has directed the new film with Darnell, in the production notes for the new film.

"We showed how their bonds were tested once they got into the wild. Even as we ended the first film -- before it became a huge hit -- we were thinking that we could do so much more with these characters.'

In the new film Alex, the showman character from New York, realises his American skills won't help him meet the challenges in the African country. Marty, who had always dreamt of running with the herd, faces new challenges, too. He finds himself in a vast herd of zebras who look like him and finds himself troubled by the anonymity. Gloria explores a romantic relationship. Melman has also to deal with his romantic yearnings for Gloria but her heart is elsewhere.

Each 'zooster' undergoes some sort of inner exploration, Darnell and McGrath note. For instance, when Alex the lion is reunited with his parents who had lost him to poachers when he was a cub, he learns many life lessons. For instance, the show biz lion learns he has to have a different personality and skills to survive in the rough and tumbling Madagascar which is even more complicated than the ever-busy New York.

Alex also has to deal with cultural misunderstandings and a number of other problems before he becomes a proud member of the Madagascar animal world. 

Producer Mireille Soria says while the first film celebrated the importance of friendship, the second one looks at the diversity issue in a very broad context. 'One of the things that is so great about New York is its diversity,' she notes, 'and that is reflected in both the films and the core group -- a lion, a giraffe, a zebra, and a hippo who are best friends. And that was something we thought we could explore further.'

But the characters are now in Madagascar and though they meet their kin, they realise they cannot taken anything for granted and work even harder to make coexistence a good reality.

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