2005’s “Madagascar” was a big hit at the box office and a fun animated comedy. The franchise continued with the 2008 sequel – “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”, which was not as good as the original; a nice 2009 Christmas special – “Merry Madagascar”; and the Nickelodeon spin-off series “The Penguins of Madagascar”. Now we have a third feature – “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” and this is the best “Madagascar” adventure of them all.
Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are still trying to get back home to NYC. But at the start of the movie they remain stuck in Africa. The penguins and monkeys have left, taken the plane to Monte Carlo, looking to win big at the casinos. The gang follows, but things don’t go smoothly and soon they’re being hunted down by Capitaine Chantel DuBois (voiced by Frances McDormand). She’s the leader of the animal control unit and she wants Alex’s head mounted on her wall.
To avoid capture the friends join-up with a traveling circus, convincing those animals that they are “circus”. Among the new characters are a tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), Gia, a cheetah (voiced by Jessica Chastain), and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short). They all head to London where they hope to impress a promoter who will then bring the show to NY, meaning Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria can finally return to their beloved Central Park Zoo.
Such a simple story. So why is “Madagascar 3” paws-down my favorite of the franchise? It’s the writing. This script, by co-director Eric Darnell and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” writer Noah Baumbach, is filled with sharp one-liners, providing plenty of laughs for both kids and adults. The energy level is on high and the dialogue comes fast and furiously so you’ve got to be on your game to catch all the clever lines, while also taking-in the stunning animation.
But why this script is on par with anything that Disney or Pixar has put-out in recent years, is because it’s full of surprises. There were several opportunities where the story could have gone down a typical path but, instead, the writers take things in a different direction. Characters and situations that I expected to go a certain way are played out other ways. It’s as if the writers studied all the cliches and boring trends from bad scripts so they knew exactly what to avoid.
Each of the new major characters has some nice depth and a purpose. Stefano, who knows he’s not too smart but is smarter than he thinks, is the best of the bunch. It took three directors to make “Madagascar 3” but if this is the result I recommend that all animated movies start using three directors. The trio does a nice job of giving the new animal characters a chance to develop alongside the familiar stars, while supporting characters, such as the Penguins and King Julien, take a bit of a back seat. Sacha Baron Cohen still has his moments as King Julien, but a little of him goes a long way.
McDormand is outstanding as
DuBois, complete with a French accent. She even gets a solo, singing Edith Piaf, in one of the film’s most inspired moments. The rest of the voice cast is excellent as well, including Cranston (who’s in a total of six movies this year). And the animation is top-notch – from a frantic early chase scene to the beautiful circus performance sequences. The colors are bright and the 3D works perfectly, even the few times that things are intentionally thrown at the screen to make you duck.
Finally, on top of all of this – loads of laughs, gorgeous visuals, great characters, the third act of “Madagascar 3” is surprisingly heartwarming. I’m not going to give anything away, but if you’ve been along for the ride with this foursome from the beginning I dare you not to be touched by how this story plays-out. And surprised. And, above all, satisfied as this saga comes full circle. Everyone involved with making this film did so with care, and that’s why the final product is so remarkable.
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor. It’s appropriate for kids 8 and up. Young ones will certainly enjoy it but I think parents and other adults will appreciate it even more. But while this movie certainly stands alone, to get the full impact it will help to have seen the two previous installments.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” gets an A-. It ranks right up there with “Toy Story 3” as one of the best animated “threequels” of all-time.
2012 has been a very good year for animated films. I hope “Madagascar 3” doesn’t get overshadowed and forgotten by voters this awards season. It may not be the best of the bumch, but it’s deserves to be in the conversation.