Review: 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted' Finds Fun in Ridiculous
by Jeremy Kirk
June 8, 2012
Either the Madagascar films are getting better with each entry or they're so unmemorable that the latest one is always considered "the best of the series." Well, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, the latest in the series from DreamWorks Animation, is the best of that bunch. At least, that's the idea for now. A literal circus of odd yet entertaining characters helps solidify it in your brain, but it's the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach, a sense that the series in all of its amusement has finally slipped into the deep end, particularly in its comedy, that will guarantee you remember it by the time Madagascar 4ever arrives.
Beginning shortly after Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ends, our group of eccentric animals from the Central Park Zoo are still in Africa, and all seems to be going well. Until, that is, the day comes when Alex the Lion (voice by Ben Stiller) becomes homesick and wishes to return to the wilds of New York City. Naturally, the group can't be broken up. That would spell anarchy for the series, so Marty the Zebra (voice by Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippopotamus (voice by Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the Giraffe (voice by David Schwimmer) set out on their long journey home. They have to make a stop in Monte Carlo, where those clever penguins have made off to, but, once there, they find themselves hunted by a highly skilled animal control tracker (voice by Frances McDormand). The team's only escape, it seems, is to grab a ride on a circus train as it's pulling away.
Much of the film's enjoyment comes from the sheer size of its quirky cast of characters. These are likely thanks in large part to co-writer Noah Baumbauch, taking some time from the peculiar and colorful found in indie comedies/dramas to helping create the peculiar and colorful found in animated blasts of circus-level entertainment. The characters we already know - Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman along with Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, and Andy Richter as lovable lemurs Julian, Maurice, and Mort - bring their own eccentricities to the table. However, even as wacky as Marty, whose Afro Circus dance is one of the film's highlights, doesn't even hold a candle to the strange but affable sea lion, Stefano.
Martin Short, always an actor you don't realize you miss until you see—or hear—him again, provides Stefano's shaky and cracking voice, a perfect choice for the "human" cannonball whose deranged ways of thinking put him more in the Gonzo category than anything seen in a real big top. Bryan Cranston voices Vitaly, a Russian tiger whose knack for jumping through hoops has left a dark spot in his past. Gia (voice by Jessica Chastain), a jaguar, is an admirable love interest for Alex. The tracker, a French woman who looks more than a little like Cruella DeVille, moves with all the smoothness of a jagged knife and adds to the oddity of the character when she displays her outside-the-box tracking ways.
But as bright and colorful as all of these characters are, it's the marriage between them and the vibrant acts these circus performers execute that really blasts audience members out of their seats. Co-directors Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath & Conrad Vernon have pulled out all the stops when it comes to ambitious shots filled with vast amounts of action, action that flies around the screen from all directions. Like Cirque de Soleil shaken up in a glass of Monster and set to a well-placed Katy Perry song, the energy on display here is undeniable and quickly leaps into being commendable. It's not just in the circus moments, either. Madagascar has always been a film series strung together by chase sequences, and the ones found in Europe's Most Wanted put all of the previous ones to dull shame. You almost have to wonder how much of that was Vernon's contribution, the director joining Darnell & McGrath who co-directed the previous films. Vernon's Monsters vs Aliens—which he co-directed with Rob Letterman—lacked focus but brought an energy to the table that helped that film's comedy greatly.
While Madagascar 3 still isn't going to win any awards for being focused, its vigor comes from its ability to make you laugh. That isn't something that will make this film rise above other, animated films that exert a strength in story and theme. Basically the folks at Pixar have little to worry about when it comes to having a monopoly on mainstream, animated films that can move you effortlessly. There's little to be pulled from the subtext in Madagascar 3, something else it has in common with Monsters vs Aliens, but it would come as a complete shock to learn that was what the people behind this film were going for.
If the job was to entertain, draw moviegoers eyes wider with countless shots of ridiculous but breathtaking energy, to throw laughs one right after the other ensuring very little time spent sitting quietly, and to keep you engaged with characters, fluid structure and rampant hilarity, it's very difficult to claim Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted a failure. It won't be going down in the annals of animated feature film history as one of the best or even one that broke new ground, but the fireworks on display here assure Madagascar 3 a safe spot in the minds of everyone who sees it. That's more than can be said for the rest of the series.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10