Animal Crackers, by Jack Fleischer
The most important thing to know about Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, is that kids will like it, and so will the folks. There is a plot, but really it’s secondary to the barrage of gags spit out like a stack of pies in the hand of an epileptic stooge.
The crew from the first two films, (lead by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer), is back, along with the majority of the secondary cast. Still on the African continent where the second film left off, the goal again is to get back to New York City. Unfortunately, popinjay monkeys and punk penguins lead the above crew and a tiny cadre of lemurs to Europe — just like the title says.
When an animal control official that’s one part Elmyra Duff, one part Chief Dreyfus, and just a smidge of Clouseau, decides that these animals need to be caught and corralled the story really gets rolling. Her name is Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), and she’s one fantastic animated villain.
Of course the leads are our favorites in the fight, but with the exception of Chris Rock they don’t bring much personality to this installment. Most of this flick’s funny comes from the supporting cast. All of the lemurs, Sacha Baron Cohen as King Julien, Cedric the Entertainer as Maurice, and Andy Richter as Mort are great. The Penguins, lead by the film’s co-director Tom McGrath, also deliver. Yet some of the best characters come from the cast members new to the series.
Brian Cranston as a Russian tiger named “Vitaly” leads this new animal crew. His introduction has one of my favorite lines in the film, and it’s a joke for the adults. Yet it’s Martin Short who voices the character that will bring kids and adults together. He’s “Stefano” the world’s most ridiculous sea lion. Short’s boundlessly goofy energy is perfect for the addled Stefano.
It’s Short and MacDormand that really make the film. MacDormand is not only a great baddie, but Captain Chantel DuBois is introduced through one of the world’s most spectacular car chases through the streets of Monte Carlo. Along with having some beautiful slo-mo destruction sequences, it’s a fun call back to the glory days of grand cartoon physics.
Again, the plot is simple. It’s a chase across Europe, supplemented with a light love story. There are some musical numbers (“Afro Circus” is a real earwig), supplemented with some psychedelic circus set pieces. Think of it as Smokey and the Bandit meets Cirque Du Solil. I suppose there are a few things that might be called plot holes – but they’re easy to over look. This film exists as a perfect medium for the gags.
Available in 3D, the film makes decent use of the feature. This is a film that focuses on a circus, and there is occasionally circusy stuff flung against the screen, some of it hokey, some of it appropriate. As with Avatar, this film makes good use of depth. I confess that I’m a huge fan of heights, and I did feel a familiar touch of vertigo during one cliff clinging scene.
Madagascar 3 isn’t an emotional ride the way Pixar’s films tend towards, but it’s relentlessly goofy fun. Good for some laughs, I say take a small person and see what happens.