Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Expect few problems during this positive transfer.
Sharpness looked good. Some light softness emerged during wide shots, but that wasn’t a substantial concern. Instead, the movie usually seemed concise and well-defined. I noticed no issues connected to shimmering or jagged edges, and just a smidgen of edge enhancement materialized. Of course, the computer-animated affair came without source flaws, so don’t worry about any specks, marks or other defects.
With its jungle settings and exotic characters, Escape featured a broad palette that looked great. The movie’s colors seemed dynamic they offered strong vivacity and impact. Blacks were concise and dark, and shadows seemed clear and smooth. Overall, Escape provided fine visuals.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Escape also seemed positive. In the forward domain, the music showed fine stereo imaging, while effects blended together neatly and smoothly. Those elements moved from speaker to speaker cleanly as the track created a solid sense of atmosphere. It even included a fair amount of dialogue from the side speakers, which offered a good impression of breadth.
Surround usage generally favored reinforcement of music and effects, but the rears came to life nicely during a number of scenes. For instance, shots related to the plane showed effective use of the surrounds, as did the other action sequences like the volcano sacrifice. The mix helped bring the material to life.
Audio quality consistently appeared fine. Dialogue was natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music was rich and warm throughout the movie, with good clarity as well. Bass stomped to life nicely during the louder scenes and effects always seemed clear and accurate, with no signs of distortion or other concerns. This was a nicely engaging soundtrack that earned a solid “B+“.
With that we head to the set’s extras. On DVD One, we begin with an audio commentary from directors/co-writers Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath and producers Mirelle Soria and Mark Swift. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They look at animation and visual design, color schemes and cinematography, cast and performances, story and character issues, music, research in Africa, and some topics related to making a sequel.
Across the board, we find an enjoyable though not great commentary. I certainly can’t find much to fault here, as the track delves into the appropriate topics with reasonable detail. I especially like the parts about changes made to the original story; for instance, Alec Baldwin was originally slated to play himself. The commentary simply lacks a certain zing that would’ve made it more engrossing. It works fine, though.
Some featurettes follow. It’s a Family Affair: The Cast of Escape 2 Africa goes for nine minutes, 10 seconds as it presents remarks from Darnell, Swift, Soria, McGrath, and actors Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Alec Baldwin, Willow Smith, Sherri Shepherd and will.i.am. We get some notes about cast, characters and performances. Don’t expect much depth here, as the comments remain fluffy and insubstantial. I always enjoy shots of the actors at work, though, so that side of things satisfies.
The Making of Escape 2 Africa goes for 11 minutes, two seconds and features Soria, Darnell, McGrath, Swift, Stiller, will.i.am, production designer Kendal Cronkite-Shaindlin, visual effects supervisor Philippe Gluckman, head of effects Scott Peterson, supervising animators Jason Schieffer, Cassidy Curtis, Jason Spencer-Galsworthy and Sean Mahoney, character technical director Milana Huang, head of character animation Rex Grignon, and composer/songwriter Hans Zimmer. The show looks at research and bringing Africa to life, character design and animation issues, and music. With barely 11 minutes at disposal, “Making” doesn’t dig into details, but it provides a fairly satisfying overview of a few filmmaking issues. It’s a fun and informative little piece.
Next we find the three-minute and 37-second Crash Landing with remarks from Swift, Darnell, McGrath, Grignon, and head of layout Nol Le Meyer. The featurette follows the development and creation of the movie’s plane crash sequence. Behind the scenes elements come to the fore here; shots of the animators at work make this a cool glimpse of how they worked out the sequence.
African Adventure fills seven minutes, 15 seconds with notes from Swift, McGrath, Darnell, Soria, Cronkite-Shaindlin, and Grignon. “Adventure” follows the filmmakers’ trip to Africa to research the film. It proves satisfying as we get a nice peek at the inspiration for the movie’s settings.
After this we locate an educational piece. Jambo Jambo: Swahili Speak runs one minute, 41 seconds and provides an overview of some Swahili terms. It’s a pretty forgettable glossary.
Next we find the Test Flight of Air Penguin game. This requires you to pick replacement parts for the aircraft. It doesn’t provide much of a challenge, but at least it’s not annoying like most DVD games.
Under Mad Music, we find four videos. These accompany “Move It, Move It”, “Big and Chunky”, “She Loves Me”, and “Traveling Song”. The latter appears in a “sing along” format. These are essentially just cheap conglomerations of animation, though “She Loves Me” lifts a sequence from the final flick. None of them prove to be interesting.
Also under “Mad Music”, we get a DreamWorks Animation Jukebox. This lets you see/hear songs from Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, Bee Movie, Flushed Away, Over the Hedge, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and Shark Tale. All of this feels like glorified advertising to me.
DVD One opens with a few ads. We get promos for Monsters Vs. Aliens, Secrets of the Furious Five, and The Penguins of Madagascar, and the original Madagascar. These also appear in the disc’s trailers domain along with clips for Hotel for Dogs and the Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa video game. No trailer for Escape itself appears here.
On DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a direct-to-video feature called The Penguins of Madagascar. Actually, this shows two sequences from an upcoming Nickelodeon series. We find “Popcorn Panic” (12:05) and “Gone in a Flash” (12:06). In the first, Zookeeper Alice (Mary Scheer) enforces a “no feeding the animals” policy; the penguins and King Julien (Danny Jacobs) strive to subvert her efforts. During “Flash”, King Julien thinks he’s trapped Maurice (Kevin Michael Richardson) inside a camera; the penguins attempt to assist in his release.
It remains to be seen if other Madagascar characters will appear in future Penguins episodes. It’s also unclear how the penguins, Julien and the others ended up in the Bronx Zoo. Nonetheless, Penguins offers brisk and peppy entertainment. The shows boast surprisingly good animation, and the vocal performances fare well. Only a few original performers return here; we get McGrath as the Skipper, Andy Richter as Mort, and Conrad Vernon as Mason. Replacements do well, especially Danny Jacobs as King Julien; he offers a very convincing take on the character. I have no idea if the series’ producers can keep the laughs coming, but this first episode of Penguins entertains.
For an 11-minute and 56-second featurette called The Heart of a Lion, we take a look at life in the Ngotongoro Crater. This shows a mix of animals but focuses on lions. It’s too brief to provide a detailed nature program, but it includes some nice shots of the animals.
The Bronx Zoo: Madagascar goes for eight minutes, 14 seconds and offers a tour from Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny. We also get comments from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) president/CEO Steve Sanderson and Bronx Zoo director of planning Sue Chin. The show provides little pop-up factoids to add more info along the way. While obviously aimed at the kiddies, “Zoo” provides a reasonably interesting overview of animals native to Madagascar. Sure, it seems like an ad for the Bronx Zoo’s exhibit, but it’s still informative.
Next we get MAD Activities. This simply lists some DVD-ROM activities that can be accessed in a computer.
Finally, the disc ends with Alex’s Dance-Off. During the three-minute and 17-second clip, we see many of Alex’s favorite moves and we’re encouraged to dance along with him. No thanks.
Look for some Easter eggs on the episode selection menu. Poke around and you’ll find at least five short clips of the characters. It’s unclear if these are unique or if they’ll appear in future episodes, but they’re moderate fun.
While I enjoyed it, I can’t say I was wild about the original Madagascar, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that its sequel doesn’t do much for me. Escape 2 Africa provides a few laughs but nothing more than that; it proves rather forgettable. The DVD looks very good and also contributes positive audio and some decent extras. This turns into a nice release for an average movie.