With the “Shrek” franchise already firmly entrenched for Dreamworks, the studio establishes another animated juggernaut with “Madagascar: Back 2 Africa,” a delightful animated film full of fun characters and lively humor. Fans of the original should be pleased, while those unfamiliar with the franchise will still be entertained.

The sequel to the 2005 hit “Madagascar” picks up with Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) about to leave Madagascar to return to their lives in the Central Park Zoo.

But the trip home takes a detour, with the animals suddenly stranded in a wildlife reserve in the middle of Africa - where they encounter species of their own kind for the first time, including the discovery of some long-lost relatives.

The four leads are all very good in their respective roles, especially Stiller and Rock, but it is the supporting characters that really make “Madagascar” a cut above most family fare.

Sacha Baron Cohen of “Borat” fame is very good as a delusional lemur king, while the late Bernie Mac, as Alex’s father, and Alec Baldwin, as a rival lion, bring a certain charm to their roles.

But the stars of the “Madagascar” franchise continue to be the penguins (voiced by Chris Miller, Christopher Knights and Conrad Vernon), who provide most of the humor for the adults in attendance. With so many other characters in the film, their screen time is kept to a minimum, but I’m convinced they deserve a spin-off at some point in the near future.

When the penguins are on the screen, “Madagascar” soars into the same heights as the first two “Shrek” films, but even when they aren’t center stage, this is still a movie that fans of all ages should appreciate.

DVD dandy of the week

This week’s dandy is “Kung Fu Panda” (B), a charming film, full of wit and character that makes it a worthy addition to the Dreamworks library of films.

“Kung Fu” tells the story of Po (voiced by Jack Black), a slacker Panda working in his family’s noodle shop who dreams of studying Kung Fu alongside his idols, the legendary Furious Five: Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey.

Po’s dream becomes a reality when the treacherous snow leopard Tai Lung escapes - and it turns out Po is the only one capable of saving the city from Lung’s evil grip.

Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger’s screenplay takes a pretty simplistic story and expands it into a film full of enchantment and wonder. It’s clear that the writers have a love for the martial arts genre and their knowledge adds to the cleverness of “Panda.”

This is a film full of self-awareness, but the humor is more within the bounds of the film instead of films like “Shrek,” which relies on pop culture references for most of its laughs.

“Panda” also benefits from a first-rate cast.

Black is the perfect choice for Po. Using his strengths as a comedian, he makes the panda a lovable and quite endearing character.

Dustin Hoffman has nice moments as Shifu, the Furious Five’s mentor, while Angelina Jolie as Tigress and Jackie Chan as Monkey are welcome additions in their respective roles.

The film looks great, too, using a cinemascope landscape to capture this ancient land.

“Kung Fu Panda” isn’t quite up to speed with animated films like “Wall

  • E” or even “Madagascar 2,” but it is still a cut above most family films released in 2008.

“Kung Fu Panda” is rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and is now available on DVD.

— Movie reviewer/sportswriter Micheal Compton can be reached at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.