"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa": This delightful sequel to the 2005 animated hit "Madagascar" is set in an animal reserve in what looks like Kenya. The zebra (Chris Rock), lion (Ben Stiller), giraffe (David Schwimmer) and hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are back, along with an expanded cast that includes Alec Baldwin and the late Bernie Mac.

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“Madagascar,” the 2005 animated hit feature by Eric Darnell and Lynnwood native Tom McGrath, might have been just another fish-out-of-water comedy but for its winning combination of earnest emotion and loopy energy. The film worked so well that the filmmakers seemed to be courting disappointment with a sequel that could easily have fallen short.

Happily, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is a worthy follow-up that builds on its predecessor’s successes and adds to them.

The story of four animals who want to see the world beyond the confines of a New York zoo, the first “Madagascar” found Marty the skeptical zebra (Chris Rock), Alex the exuberant lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the neurotic giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the sassy hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) on their way to an island nation just off the southeastern coast of Africa. Along for the ride, but on a kind of parallel adventure, was a cluster of penguins who seemed to view the world as an episode of “Mission: Impossible.” Arguably the funniest element in “Madagascar,” the birds were led by the delusional — if exceptionally competent — Skipper (voiced by McGrath), who sounded like a class clown trying to crack you up in middle school.

Among “Mad 2’s” welcome new elements is an expanded cast that includes Alec Baldwin as a sardonic villain, former Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.Am as a smooth operator wooing Gloria and — best of all — the late Bernie Mac as Alex’s warm but conflicted dad, Zuba.

The story begins with the main quartet of characters attempting to fly out of Madagascar and return to New York (in a near-wreck piloted by Skipper), only to crash in what appears to be the glorious plain of an animal reserve in Kenya. There, Alex, Melman, Gloria and Marty have a powerful epiphany, recognizing their own kind gathered at a watering hole. They have come home. None more so than Alex, who soon finds his parents and realizes he was poached from Africa as a cub.

The happy reunion sours quickly, however, when Zuba — the head of his pride — discovers Alex is more urban than wild, used to winning others over with his passion for dancing rather than ferocity. As Zuba, Mac delivers one of his finest and most subtle performances, conveying both love and discouragement in his relationship with Alex. But there is something else in Zuba’s voice, too: a hint of exhaustion over living life in a prescribed way, enforcing his pride’s strict rules to absurd lengths and perhaps, without showing it too much, appreciating Alex’s fresh energy. That’s a lot to get across in a vocal performance, but Mac does it all very well and with agreeable warmth.

“Mad 2” juggles quite a few relationship subplots with aplomb, including strains between Marty and Alex, and Melman’s unrequited love for “best friend” Gloria. Less savory but quite hilarious is a romance for Skipper — not with another penguin, but rather a dashboard hula girl figurine. Don’t bother asking — he’s in his own world.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com