Back in December 2008, Hagrid and Ned returned from terrorizing the South Island and every conversation for the first couple of days ended with "I want to become a professional whistler. Pfffffssst." in an annoying voice that sounded a bit like Peter Sellers in The Party. Since then all has been revealed and I now agree that Madagasca 2: Escape Africa joins the short list of sequels that eclipse the original film.
After seeing M2, it got me thinking about the need for animated films to be filled with big-name actors. Both Ben Stiller and Chris Rock are pretty much phoning in their stand-up personas (though toned down for the children's audience), David Schwimmer is just Ross with a long neck and JPS plays the sassy black woman card. I get that the comedic genius of Andy Richter and Sasha Baron-Cohen are essential to their roles but if they'd chosen unknown voice actors for the four leads, would Madagascar have done as well at the box office?
I suspect that the answer is no as when selecting a movie to see we use the previous performances of the actors as a short hand when we don't have any other recommendations to go on*. However, do we get a better movie as a result of the big name actors? Apart from guest stars, most prime time animated TV shows do okay without famous leads and it can be detrimental to the film if you get distracted trying to workout where you try to guess who's doing the voices instead of empathizing with the lovable, yet flawed pig.
When you look at how they do overseas, this theory gains some legs. In most South American and European countries at least two animated Hollywood films were in their 2009 box office top ten. I don't think the overseas distributors get A-list German and Brazilian actors to record local voices for the films, so the quality of the movies is buoyed by local performances and not the star power they bring to the film.
Unless, of course, parents are desperate the world over and don't actually care what they take their kids to see as long as it keeps them quiet for 90 minutes.
* This is another flawed practice as (Shallow Grave + Lost in Translation) * Reservoir Dogs = The Island.