Animal magic is in short supply in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, a colourful computer-animated sequel for the entire family which cheekily recycles the plot of The Lion King. Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath's film strands its menagerie of misfits in the wild, where they discover the courage to follow their hearts and to reclaim a birthright as king of the jungle.

Important lessons about loyalty to friends, individuality in the face of conformity and inter-species romance are hammered home without any attempt at subtlety. As in the first film, Sacha Baron Cohen merrily scene-steals as a crazy lemur, who enjoys the finer things in life when he’s not shaking his furry booty to Reel 2 Reel's infectious dance anthem, I Like To Move It, Move It.

Kids will squeal at the slapstick and bright colours; parents and older audiences will have to search much harder for amusement.

Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith) are finally ready to leave the exotic island of Madagascar and return to the plush surroundings of New York's Central Park Zoo. Boarding a rickety plane with ring-tailed lemur King Julien the 13th (Cohen), his second-in-command Maurice (Cedric The Entertainer) and the penguins — Private, Rico, Skipper and Kowalski — the animals crash-land shy of their destination, ending up on the plains of Africa. “It's like déjà vu . . . like I've been here before,” says Alex, just before he comes mane-to-mane with his long lost father Zuba (Bernie Mac) and doting mother (Sherri Shepherd).

The return of the prodigal son is music to the ears of Zuba’s sworn, jealous rival Makunga (Alec Baldwin), who suggests that Alex take part in a traditional rites of passage ceremony, knowing full well that if the newcomer should fail, he must be exiled from the pride. Meanwhile, Melman wrestles with his feelings for Gloria, but just as he is ready to declare himself, hippo love god Moto Moto ( makes his move . . .

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa starts promisingly with a flashback to Alex’s abduction from the jungle and the flight back to New York, with Kowalski and his friends at the controls of the plane. Once the story moves to Africa, the similarities to The Lion King are inescapable, and this film pales next to the Disney masterpiece. The quality of the animation is undeniable — the visuals are crisp and finely detailed including animal hair that moves convincingly in the wind and lush, intricate backdrops.