VOCAL WORK BY Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Frances McDormand DIRECTED BY Eric Darnell SCREENPLAY Noah Baumbach MPAA RATING Rated PG RUNNING TIME 85 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY DreamWorks Animation
While Madagascar 3 - Europe's Most Wanted will never be mistaken for a Pixar film, not even the sub-par Cars 2, it is a decent addition to the DreamWorks Animation stable and a surprisingly satisfying and entertaining third film in the Madagascar series of films.
For those not in the know, the series started out in Madagascar with Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) escaping from the Central Park Zoo with the assistance of some wily penguins and finding themselves in Madagascar. In the second film, Escape 2 Africa, the same players are trying to get back to New York City but find themselves on an African wildlife refuge where Alex reunites with his parents. In this latest film, our animals once again try to return to New York City only to find themselves having become "Europe's Most Wanted" thanks to their escapades in a Monte Carlo casino. When they seek refuge with a down-and-out circus with a legendary history, our beastly friends learn that returning home may not mean exactly what they thought it would.
Rather surprisingly, Madagascar 3 is penned by The Squid and the Whale writer/director Noah Baumbach. With his directorial efforts (Greenberg, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) not exactly going gangbusters at the box-office, one can't exactly blame Baumbach for taking a paycheck project, but this seems like an odd choice for the emotionally complex and insightful writer/director. Madagascar 3 does start off painfully slow, with obscure pop culture references that the kids won't get and will make the adults simply groan.
Yet, there's something about Madagascar 3 that creeps up on you, grabs hold of you and refuses to let go, especially in the film's latter half as its circus-based adventures really begin to take flight. Part of it can be explained by a complete abandonment of reality (like talking/dancing/traveling animals are real anyway?) and a complete devotion to silliness, absurd adventures, pushing the envelope and and outright joyfulness that proves to be contagious.
After the initial scene that finds our leading quartet stuck back in Africa waiting on the return of penguins, whom it's finally determined have no intent of returning, Madagascar 3 picks up the pace when the gang breaks into the casino (think Mission Impossible or the Ocean's films) attempting to meet up with the penguins. Of course, all you know what breaks loose and the gang gets the attention of an animal control officer, Chantel DuBois (Frances McDorman), with a relentless devotion to her job and a ridiculously absurd ability to overcome virtually any obstacle.
She's going to need it.
Where Baumbach, who actually co-penned the script with Eric Darnell, really succeeds here is in not necessarily painting anything realistic but in somehow managing to get us emotionally invested in the gang's adventures once again. The pure but sweet connection between Melman and Gloria is given ample moments to shine on center stage here, while even a completely silly pairing of a bear and a lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen) is played so endearingly that you can't help but be moved when the two find themselves rather romantically touring The Vatican and meeting with the Pope.
While the 3-D isn't mind-blowing, Madagascar 3 does find some extraordinary uses for the technology with a delightful chase through the streets of Monaco, a high-flying circus act, a bold hoop-jumping tiger (Bryan Cranston) and a closing 30 minutes that is nothing short of awe-inspiring and fun for both children and adults.
The vocal work here is energetic and inspired, with Chris Rock making tremendous use of his easily distinguishable voice by going completely over-the-top on more than one occasion. Jada Pinkett Smith is warm, sweet and funny and her scenes with David Schwimmer's Melman remain among my favorites in the Madagascar films.
It's arguable that everything moves at far too quick of a pace, at least once the pace really picks up. It would have been nice if things had slowed down a bit in terms of both sight and sound and we'd been allowed to really enjoy our time with these characters. The slow beginning, the uneven story and the occasionally too frenetic pace don't, however, ruin the fact that Madagascar 3 is easily better than the second film in the series and may very well top the original.
Madagascar 3 - Europe's Most Wanted may very well become America's most wanted film this first weekend in June.