Madacascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted B+
Opens June 8
The global success of 2005’s “Madagascar” and its 2008 sequel “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” have encouraged the producers at DreamWorks to spin another story.
The third installment of the “Madagascar” franchise, titled “Europe’s Most Wanted,” is short, breezy, circus-like (literally), light entertainment that more than fulfills expectations.
The first chapter to be shot in 3D, “Madacascar 3” should do marvels at the box office, when it’s released theatrically in early June. The movie received its world-premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Fest (Out of Competition),
“Madagascar 3” is invigorated by a new, dazzling setting (circus), fast (often frenetic) pacing that zips the story and characters from one locale to another, the creation of a new set of characters, and the kind of energy that seldom characterizes animations in their second and third legs. (I have no doubts that if this chapter is really commercial, there will be “Madacascar 4”).
Three directors are behind the cameras this time: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, who have helmed the series’ first two installments, and Conrad Vernon (who did “Shrek 2,” “Monsters vs. Aliens”). (I am curious to know what was the division of labor and responsibilities among the trio of helmers).
The screenplay, mostly written by Eric Darnell, has received another version by Noah Baumbach (who also wrote Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), who probably provided the final polish and the witty one-liners that sporadically decorate the tale.
The filmmakers claim to be inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” and so they have structured their three tales as odysseys—literally and figuratively. The characters go to all kinds of wild places all over the world, and in the process discover who they really are and what’s important to them.
Their journey, you may recall, took the Zoosters from New York to the island of Madagascar, then to the wilds of Africa. In the latest installment, the adventure unfolds all across Europe, which suggests a grander scale visually and a brighter palette of colors.
Our quartet of animals: Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman (David Schwimmer) are determined to make their way back to New York City’s Central Park Zoo. Leaving Africa behind, they’ve taken a detour and surface in Europe, on a hunt for the penguins and chimps that have managed to break into the bank of a Monte Carlo casino.
The animals are discovered by the dogged, nearly psychotic French animal control officer Capitaine Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand in a “Fargo” mode), who does not appreciate zoo animals running wild in her city, and is also thrilled by the idea of hunting her first lion.
The Zoosters find a perfect cover in a down-and-out traveling circus, where they come up with a plan to reinvent the shabby operation, discover a few new talents, and make it home to New York alive. The context of a circus allows them to perform death-defying tricks and make new friends. In this movie, the zoosters are moving not just across the surface of the earth, but also up in the air, flipping, rolling and flying.
“Madacascar 3” benefits immensely from the creation of a fascinating new villain, the steely-eyed Capitaine Chantel DuBois, who’s part bloodhound and part Cruella DeVil (with a touch of Edith Piaf). Capitaine’s intent isn’t merely to capture the Zoosters, but also to annihilate them; when she’s done, she intends to hang Alex’s head on her crowded animal trophy wall.
Other new characters that add to the storytelling include a sassy jaguar (Jessica Chastain), a vulnerable sea lion named Stefano (Martin Short), and a growling Siberian tiger called Vitaly (TV’s Bryan Cranston).
The breakneck tempo might present some problems to very young children in following the dialogue, though most viewers will be pleased by the dazzling circus acts, which provide thrills that go way beyond the storytelling perse.
Madacascar 2 Vs. Madacascar 3
At the end of “Madacascar 2,” thanks to the ingenuity of the chimps, the often-damaged Air Penguin was back in flying condition, hurtling the primates and penguins toward the Monte Carlo Casino, where they plan to spend a gambling holiday. As “Madagascar 3” begins, tired of waiting for their return, the Zoosters leave Africa and emerge, secret-agent style, from the Mediterranean Sea, for Phase One of “Operation Penguin Extraction.” The plan is to make a beeline for the casino and grab the penguins. As Alex puts it, “get them to take us back to New York in the Monkey Powered Super Plane.” But it’s not as easy as it sounds: Once inside the casino, Alex, Melman, Marty and Gloria become fugitives on the run from a crazed animal control officer.
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