Hollywood Product - Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

GENRE: CGI family comedy

THE PITCH: Former Central Park Zoo animals Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) inadvertently return to their African roots, but Alex has a hard time living up to his alpha male father Zuba (the late Bernie Mac).

MONEY SHOTS: A giant slingshot launches the animals out of Madagascar in a hilariously dangerous flip. All of the Mission: Impossible antics of the commando penguins, particularly the way they repeatedly hijack the jeeps of New York tourists. A view that seems to contain all of Africa's wildlife in one shot. Alex saves his father's life – and wins his respect – by using his dance moves to disarm an angry mob.

BEST LINE: "Oh, so suddenly throwing a giraffe into a volcano to make water is crazy," King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) sarcastically replies to Gloria when she objects to his plan to make a sacrifice to the water gods.

VULGAR HUMOR: Two lemurs pick their nose and eat each other's findings. In the plane's first-class section, King Julien orders, "Bring me my nuts on a silver platter." Lots of animal butt shots: the hippopotami got back.

POP REFERENCES: A dancer, not a fighter, Alex declares, "I'm a protégé of Fosse and Robbins," and struts like one of the hoodlums from West Side Story during a lion rite of passage. A lemur hangs onto the wing of the plane like the gremlin in "The Twilight Zone's" "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet." A chimp says, "You're so darn ugly" like Kim Hunter in Planet of the Apes before kissing a penguin.

SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas not only voices a hefty, amorous hippo, he provides most of the original songs, including "Big and Chunky" and a new version of the insanely catchy "I Like to Move It, Move It." The film's hip-hop-flavored music may be its best selling point compared to more white-bread cartoon features.

VOICE CAMEOS: Meredith Viera, Lesley Stahl and Al Roker make brief contributions as newscasters.

FASHION STATEMENTS: Alec Baldwin voices a scheming challenger lion with a black, swept-back mane that looks rather like the actor's own haircut. Hypochondriac Melman becomes a witch doctor, donning innumerable neck rings and a clip-on bone through his nose. A little old lady's modest purse proves surprisingly crucial.

IMAX FACTOR: I saw Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa on the Mall of Georgia's IMAX screen, and the scenes of big, sprawling vistas, plane crashes and bubbling volcanoes looked remarkably rich – and undoubtedly elevated familiar material.

BETTER THAN THE FIRST? Yes. The first film's central gimmick – "The animals are like New Yorkers! Get it?" – got old fast. The new one emphasizes character conflicts over more predictable shtick, despite some mean-spirited site gags at the expense of a brawling old lady. Neither Madagascar feature, however, is as blissfully entertaining as "A Christmas Caper," the 10-minute short starring the penguins.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A leopard can't change its spots and a Madagascar film can't break new comedic ground, but Escape 2 Africa features some agreeable subplots, including a giraffe in love with a hippo and Alex's identity crisis, which almost resembles a coming-out story by way of The Lion King. But can some animal rights activists rescue the four-legged heroes from the inevitable third film?