updated 11/2/2008 3:19:10 PM ET 2008-11-02T20:19:10

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The pleasant but far-from-pioneering crew of DreamWorks Animation's cheerful 2005 hit "Madagascar" reunite for "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" to similar results.

Essentially this sequel has settled down into a sitcom: Each of its major zoo-raised animals has a comical issue that must get resolved before the credits roll in 89 minutes. The film, like its predecessor, is aimed mostly at children and should score a direct hit. It opens, via Paramount, on Friday.

The situation at the end of the first film was this: Alex the performing lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the wisecracking zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the sensitive giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the ghetto-fabulous hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), all refugees from the Central Park Zoo, are stranded on the shores of Madagascar. The tough-guy penguins, who came along uninvited, have now rehabbed an old crashed airplane to fly back home. The plane gets as far as the central plains of Africa, where it again crashes.

The wreck fortuitously reunites Alex with his dad Zuba (the late Bernie Mac) and mom (Sherri Shepherd). This reunion sparks Alex's issue: His dad's rival, Makunga (Alec Baldwin), demands that the son perform the rites of passage to be allowed to stay in the pride. Misunderstanding the nature of this trial by fire, Alex performs the crowd-pleasing dance number from his zoo days, which results in his rival knocking the stuffing out of him. He therefore is banished from the pride because "real lions" don't dance.

Meanwhile, Marty discovers that all the zebras look, sound and act exactly like him -- or to be specific, like Chris Rock. How can his best pal Alex tell him apart from the herd? Well, Alex can't, as a matter of fact. Which leaves Marty very angry.

Gloria's hot-and-very-heavy flirtation with the watering hole's extra-large Romeo, Moto Moto (will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas), sends Melman into a tailspin of jealousy. For in an implausible case of inter-species attraction, the giraffe turns out to be madly in love with the hippo.

Other characters return from the original film including the party-hearty lemurs (Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer and Andy Richter) and the vicious old lady (Elisa Gabrielli) with martial arts moves, as do the pop songs, ranging from Barry Manilow to Ennio Morricone, that put a goofy spin on all the action.

Cartoons can get away with being serviceable and skillful without much creativity since they have an endlessly renewing audience. "Mad 2" surfs along on such waves, entertaining youngsters while mildly amusing adults. And being somewhat forgettable has an upside: When "Mad 2" comes to DVD, it will seem new again.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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