RATING |

Take the flat tire that was

Madagascar

. Retread it with

The Lion King

storyline. Pump it up with air.

Now you have Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, an overinflated sequel to the one about the lion, the zebra, the giraffe and the hippo liberated from the Central Park Zoo and deposited (by penguin commandos) on the island nation off the east coast of Africa.

As in the first installment of the DreamWorks animation, M2 suggests that to flourish in the jungle it helps to have street smarts. Never mind that the film subtitled Escape 2 Africa doesn't technically leave the continent, although this time it moves from the world's fourth-largest isle to the mainland.

With its stylized menagerie resembling plush creatures on a Toys R Us shelf, M2 surely will appeal to undemanding viewers age 6 and younger.

Yet unlike Pixar films, this busy and noisy film has too-generic a story and too-undistinguished a look to offer much for those kids' older siblings and their parents.

Although they were best friends at the zoo, in Africa M2's main characters stick to their own kind. Alex the lion (voice of Ben Stiller) hooks up with his family; Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) with his herd; Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) with another of her species; and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) with his hypochondria. Given their four competing storylines, none of the these chatty central characters really emerges.

Which means M2, like its predecessor, is literally hijacked by the penguin commandos (very funny) and metaphorically by the vocal caperings of Sacha Baron Cohen, on hand again as Julien, mischief king of the lemurs.

Among the morals this multiculti affair purveys:

Real lions do dance.

Interspecies love is cool.

All zebras don't look alike.

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Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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