Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
What It Is
Madagascar 3 begins in a dream. More specifically, it begins in Alex the lion’s (Ben Stiller) dream, in which he imagines he’s finally going home to New York, only to be thwarted by the lemurs, again. It’s not exactly clear, even when he wakes up, how he’s come to be unhappy in Africa, when he was happy in Africa at the end of Madagascar 2. It might be that he’s worried about growing old, as he dreams that his friends — Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) — are looking variously ancient, in wheelchairs and on crutches. Or, maybe he misses his parents, now vanished (this too is unexplained). Whatever the reason, he and his buddies decide once more to move on.
This time, they head back to America by way of Monte Carlo. Along the way, they re-connect with some animals from before, including the penguins and chimps and King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), accompanied by assorted minion-lemurs. Trying to win some casino money for their trip to NYC, they attract the attention of Police Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). Introduced in an office adorned with all manner of domestic animal and insect heads on plaques, she’s yearning to go after big game. When she learns of the chance to capture a lion, well, she’s instantly obsessed, indicated by her tendency to get down on her hands and knees and sniff the ground like a hound.
DuBois’ pursuit leads to a wild chase through the city, before the animals find refuge on a circus train headed out of town. Here they meet their next batch of animal friends, Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain), and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short), as well as a bear in a pink tutu who doesn’t speak, and so proves an irresistible love object for King Julien. (Their romance delivers multiple sight gags premised on the bear’s silent but very expressive immensity and the lemur’s incessantly chatty teeny-weeny-ness.) A couple of other relationships develop as well, as Alex falls for Gia, who believes his lie that he’s a circus lion who knows some tricks, particularly how to perform what they call “Trapeze Americano,” and Marty warms to Stefano when they discover a shared passion for being shot out of a cannon (this makes for some decent 3D business).
It turns out that Vitaly has a sad secret past (though not so secret that Stefano doesn’t spill it via a lengthy flashback as soon as he’s asked). The circus animals’ tender feelings about their past — once the circus was spectacular, now it’s puny — leads the Europeans to feel especially disappointed when they learn their American friend, Alex, has been deceiving them to get what he wants (money for that ticket back to NYC). The rest of the plot is less geopolitically pointed, as the animals do make it back to the States, while engaging in predictable plot turns: regret and rift, revelation and reunion, the last spurred on by the animals’ common opponent, that pesky (and very French) DuBois.
Why It’s Fun
The verbal gags are clever, this courtesy of a fast-paced script by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach. Some visual asides are also terrific: my favorite takes place during a slow-burning conflict between Alex and Gia, where they end up pawing at a ball of yarn between them, a bit that’s enjoyably catlike.
The animation is clever and colorful. The 3D is reasonable.
And, oddly, the film makes a solid case for workers’ rights. Specifically, it argues that they should be in charge of their own business. This because they have expertise and also investment. When Alex buys the circus from a human owner, the animals decide they want to update the product, improving their routines and learning new tricks. This makes them immensely popular, and suggests they know their trade better than the series of humans who have run it into the ground.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the first films may be happy to see the animals on yet another journey. New fans might be won over as well, because this is that unusual sequel that might be better than its predecessors. Though it does include the occasional puke joke and its characters tend to be uni-dimensional (the cowardly lion, the perky sea lion, the Chris Rock character who is always the same Chris Rock character), it keeps in mind that many adults watch movies with their kids, and so it displays occasional wit.
What To Be Aware Of
The movie means to sell lots of stuff. As reported in Ad Age, tie-in products range from videogames and stuffed animals to Children’s Claritin, McDonald’s Madagascar Happy Meals, and House Foods Organic Tofu. A connection to a plot pointing the film will sell hair conditioner.
The movie includes cartoon violence, including DuBois’ use of tranquilizer darts and a series of crashes and bangs that leave her policemen in casts and in traction.
DuBois goes to recover her men at the hospital, rousing them from their beds with an unnervingly ardent performance of Edith Piaf’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien,” featuring a melodramatic spotlight and sensationally running mascara.
The circus tricks training montage — set to Katy Perry’s exceptionally overused “Firework” — is not nearly so smart or detailed or entertaining enough to sustain interest over the two minutes it goes on. The animation is cruder than elsewhere in the film, and the non-story is unnecessary.
One of the little lemurs alerts the adults that “My tummy is speaking to me,” before he vomits up a long pink stream of something yucky.
8 out of 10
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Director: Eric Darnell
Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short
US General Release: June 8, 2012
UK General Release: October 19, 2012