It’s been seven years since Marty (Chris Rock) escaped his comfortable confines, followed by Alex (Ben Stiller), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman (David Schwimmer) in Madagascar. Unfortunately, a zebra (Marty), lion (Alex), hippopotamus (Gloria), and giraffe (Melman) running loose in the Big Apple isn’t easily accepted. Once captured, the four life-long friends are put in animal containers and shipped to Africa; and end up in Madagascar, found by King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his tribe of lemurs. In Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa, the group end up in *SPOILER* Africa, and now in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, the wayward animals are stranded in Africa, trying to make their way back to New York’s Central Park Zoo.
Although the first Madagascar wasn’t perfect, it was an enjoyable family film; made even more so by its cast of characters and especially by its breakout stars, the penguins: Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights) and Rico. Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa tried to relive the comedic moments from the first film far too often, and even worse, came off as a cheap imitation of the Lion King. It wasn’t a matter of would a 3rd film be made, not with a combined gross of over $373 million, but when would it be made? And would it be an improvement over the 2nd film?
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted starts off familiar, with our trusty foursome, along with help from King Julien, Mort (Andy Richter) and Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) making their way to Monte Carlo to track down the ever so tricky penguins, to gain their help in the hopes of getting back home. Upon their arrival and ensuing crashing of a Monte Carlo casino, they become the target of local Animal Control led by Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). In order to avoid being found, the group takes refuge as part of Circus Zaragoza, a traveling circus.
Madagascar 3 is a definite improvement over Escape to Africa; however, the film is not without its flaws. The biggest issue is the inclusion of the Monte Carlo Animal Control. I realize that it’s a plot device used to guide the film’s stars to the traveling circus, but it didn’t feel necessary; often it felt forced, and intrusive to the story. Captain Chantel DuBois is aggressive and non-stop of her pursuit of Alex for the sole purpose of mounting his head on her wall. Truth be told, once the four make it to the circus she becomes irrelevant.
The opposite can be said for the traveling circus, and the cast of new characters introduced. Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) the tiger, Gia (Jessica Chastain) the jaguar, Stefano (Martin Short) the sea-lion and Sonya (Frank Welker) the bear perform various stunts and acts in the failing circus. Once Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman incorporate themselves into act, the movie really takes off. It becomes a bright, fun and enjoyable spectacle to watch. The interactions between the old and new characters are done perfectly and in such a way that easily integrates the new characters into the Madagascar lore; in the case of King Julien and Sonya, their relationship provides some of the films funniest moments.
The issues I have with Madagascar as a franchise is the length of time spent in Madagascar, Africa and now Monte Carlo, all in the hopes of getting back home. I’d also rather not even see any human characters in the films, because all they do is take away time from the films’ actual stars. They don’t add anything in the form of plot, and that screen time could be better used by showing more of the penguins. Speaking of which, I realize they have a T.V. show of their own, but isn’t it time we get a Penguins of Madagascar movie??
What makes Madagascar 3 work is the exceptional voice work done by the actors and actresses. The chemistry between them shines through in every sequence. The addition of the new characters, as well as introducing the traveling circus allows for new opportunities to help the franchise move forward. My only request is that they don’t continue to have Marty sing “dadadalala Afro-circus, Afro-circus, polka-dot, polka-dot, polka-dot, Afro”, because I’m not sure how much more I can take of hearing my kids sing it. Although not on par with films by Pixar, Disney or even Dreamworks’ own How to Train Your Dragon, I really enjoyed Madagascar 3 and hope they take advantage of the story possibilities revolving around a traveling circus.
Age Appropriate: 5+
Award Possibilities: Best Animated Feature