By the time a film franchise reaches its third installment, a certain problem sometimes arises. The main characters’ major weaknesses or flaws have been corrected or resolved by the previous stories, and as a result the original lineup is no longer able to drive a plot by itself. New characters appear to provide the heroes with the motivation to run off on further adventures. The larger cast then throws off the film’s focus to make room for everyone, old and new. Such is the case with Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, but even so, much of the action is so anarchically silly that you may not mind. Certainly, the kids won’t.
Despite the freedom they’ve enjoyed on their adventures, our four heroes – Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) – are still eager to return to their home in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. This time, their travels land them in Europe, tracking down their Penguin allies to use the birds’ chimp-powered airplane to fly home to America.
(The quartet’s journey from Africa to Monaco is handled so quickly that you wonder why they even need the Penguins, but don’t think too hard about that.)
When the plane crashes close to Paris, the group find themselves on the run from French animal control agents, led by Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand), whose relentless pursuit of a lion’s head for her wall could teach Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator a lesson or two. The fugitives bluff their way onto a circus train, and quickly learn from the performing animals that if the circus can impress an American promoter, they’ll be able to secure a US tour which will take them to New York. The circus animals, though, have seriously lost their mojo – none more so than Russian tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), who was injured performing a famous trick – and it’s up to Alex and friends to help everyone rediscover their passion in order to succeed.
We also can’t forget about the lemurs, including self-obsessed King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), who courts a minicycle-riding circus bear, and little Mort (Andy Richter), who as usual gets only a couple of lines, but ends up being the most memorable. And I’m leaving out a load of characters, including circus animals played by Martin Short and Jessica Chastain, who serve various purposes, including plot exposition, romantic interest, and comic relief. It’s a bloated cast, and though the script by co-director Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach tries to overcome it by pairing the new characters up with the old, the momentum drags as everyone is given their moment.
But then the action scenes kick in, and the wild slapstick that ensues is sublimely ridiculous. The chase scenes with DuBois rank as some of the most entertaining sequences of the entire series. They’re mostly front-loaded, leaving us waiting impatiently for more later on, but what’s there is enough to recommend. Credit should also go to Darnell for avoiding most of the stereotypical Euro-slagging that occurs in movies like these – in fact, Canadians get poked at more than the French or Italians.
It’s hardly perfect, but there’s enough for both kids and adults to enjoy in Madagascar 3. And really – who doesn’t love a circus?
Tags: movie review