In this highly anticipated sequel to box office success “Madagascar,” directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath have once again managed to present an animated feature full of laugh out loud moments, emotional dilemmas and enough fun for kids and adults alike to enjoy.

We join Alex, a happy-go-lucky Lion with intriguing dancing skills, Marty, a chatty zebra, Melman, a hypochondriac giraffe and Gloria, a hippo with a bountiful backside as they plan to depart Madagascar to return to the Central Park zoo. Their mode of transportation? An old plane left on the island that the penguins have repaired with precision, or so we think.

The plane ride, although epic, is short lived, as it crashes with passengers and crew intact in the most unlikely (or likely!) of places – Africa.

Amazed that they’ve literally reached their homeland and encounter animals that look and talk like they do, Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria quickly assimilate into the society of animals on the reserve and begin to rethink even trying to go back to New York City. However, living among their kind isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be.

Alex struggles with acceptance from his father, Marty discovers he’s no different than any other zebra, Melman contemplates professing his love for Gloria, and Gloria, well, she’s just looking for love, like any other sensible hippo.

With a marvelous cast, including Ben Stiller as the voice of Alex, Chris Rock as Marty, David Schwimmer as Melman, Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria and Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, the late and great Bernie Mac and Alec Baldwin lending their voices to supporting characters, Madagascar’s animals are well played, even though ethnic stereotypes make their way into the film.

The crown of glory however, ironically goes to King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), the little self-proclaimed King of the Madagascar Lemurs who will provide you with so much entertainment, you’ll start to miss him when he doesn’t appear on screen.

The penguins come in as a close second, as the most entertaining group besides Alex and co., Named Skipper (Tom McGrath), Rico (John DiMaggio), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Private (Christopher Knights), they form the brains of the entire operation, in charge of reconstructing the skeleton of an airplane that landed in Africa. The landing, while leaving all on board fearing for their lives, causes the troupe to rejoice and exclaim, “who says penguins can’t fly?”

While Alex, Gloria, Melman and Marty deal with intra and interpersonal issues, King Julien and the penguins provide comic relief without the melodrama the rest of the animals are experiencing. Not to say that it’s unnecessary at all, in fact, it provides a great balance between the laughs, but the plot lines are more suited to parents than their kids.

Take in point the love story between Gloria and hot and happening hippo Motto Motto, brought to life by Black Eyed Peas’ member, Motto Motto, the apparent alpha male and womanizer in the hippo herd is in love with Gloria because of her ample bosom. Although kids might understand the love plot, only an adult could connect with the fact that Motto Motto likes his girls “big, chunky, round and plumpy.” The interaction between the hippos also gives way to an underlying theme of body image. The pairing of curvy Gloria with a love interest relays a positive message of body image, while her disdain for Motto Motto’s only reason of attraction (her junk in the trunk), puts less emphasis on physical appearance, and more on substance.

Other occurrences such as the chimps fighting for higher wages and maternity leave after being recruited by the penguins to repair the plane and the gecko left in charge of Madagascar declaring “let them eat cake” are enough to leave an adult wanting more.

And don’t forget the humans, whose most notable member, a cranky old lady made out of New York steel, harasses and even tries to hunt Alex whom she calls a “bad kitty.”

Madgascar: Escape 2 Africa” was cleverly and clearly crafted to appeal to people of all ages, and it more or less succeeded. Despite tried and true story lines and the ability of the supporting characters to overshadow the main ones (please give King Julien his own star-studded film), it will most likely score big. With themes of family, friendship and originality running through the film, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone not singing “I like to move it, move it” out loud. A sequel has been confirmed to be in the works

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa opens today nationwide and is rated PG, with a running time of one hour and 29 minutes.

Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Animation/Paramount Pictures