DVD review: “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” works better with “Penguins”

The web is riddled with quibbling, hand-wringing, complaining and moaning over the fact that DreamWorks is offering Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa on its own and in a two-pack with the DVD The Penguins of Madagascar. Some say it’s not worth paying an extra $4 or so for the separate disc. So why complain? Simply buy the movie-only package.

As for me, I’m stoked about the fab four penguins’ DVD, because they’re the best thing about this franchise.

With two 12-minute cartoon shorts, and a few extras, in effect this disc serves as a preview of an upcoming Nickelodeon TV series starring these very same penguins. So you might wait until it debuts in March and then hope to catch these within a half-hour program. But until then, they’re a stitch here, which is more than I can say for some clunky stretches of the Madagascar sequel.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love this franchise. I thought the first film was one of the best animated features in years. I just don’t think this one quite lives up to it.

For one thing, there’s far too much touchy-feely, family-is-all, be-true-to-yourself sermonizing with the focus on cocky-in-Gotham but self-pitying-in-Africa lion Alex (Ben Stiller), as he tries and fails to live up to his father’s leadership legacy. ( Too close to The Lion King for comfort in my book.)

Hello? This began as a riotous and clever comedy franchise, not a weepy after-school special. Nor does Alex stand head and shoulders above castmates Marty the zany zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) or Gloria the sassy hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), yet he gets more screen time than any of them.

That said, the film still bristles with lots of lunacy and laughs, especially when delusional, dance-happy King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) leads large-scale celebrations, sacrifices and other wacky wonderment. And the penguins get time, too, amid some truly dazzling CG animation.

But you can see the displaced critters even more via the two-disc set’s Penguins of Madagascar, whose two shorts are both winners, especially Popcorn Panic.

The setup has the penguins back at the New York zoo — along with, somehow, Julien and Maurice — where the penguins do their nutty commando-style thing with mock-seriousness, elan and high humor.

And there you have it. Together, these two discs should satisfy your doctor-prescribed laugh diet for the day. So why quibble? Just enjoy.

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