Something feels strangely familiar about Alex the lion in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and it's not just because we moviegoing humans met that animated animal, voiced by Ben Stiller, just three years ago in the original Madagascar. No, what's striking about the cat this time around, as he and his zoo buddies attempt to make their way back from Madagascar to hometown New York City (and crash-land in Africa instead), is how much Alex has in common with Stiller's Tugg Speedman in Tropic Thunder. In his own charmingly egocentric way, Alex raised in a zoo and ''performing”''as a lion surrounded by the real thing at an African water hole is the four-legged equivalent of Tugg the showboating actor, ''performing'' as a soldier in the Asian jungle. In both instances, Stiller excels at exploring the sillier aspects of self-involvement, and it's pleasant indeed to see Alex reunited with motormouthed Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), pessimistic Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and big-and-beautiful Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). In the brightly drawn sequel, as technically smooth as we've come to expect from the DreamWorks cartoon factory, all four use their time in Africa the land of their ancestors! as an opportunity for personal growth, only to wind up more or less the way they always were.
What, you were expecting a cutting-edge twist, maybe something about a lonely postapocalyptic robot? Wrong part of the animated kingdom, my friends. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is pretty tame, but it knows how to keep its own turf tidy. B