Bright and colorful, with some eye-popping 3D imagery and psychedelic Cirque du Soleil-inspired circus sequences, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is likely to appeal most to younger children and undemanding parents. Storywise, however, it’s a bust: bland and uninspired, with little to set it apart from generic mainstream animated fare. Or, more or less on par with the previous two films.
That doesn’t necessarily mean bad; no, the Madagascar films have been generally pleasant and inoffensive and easy on the eyes, though this one, like Pixar’s Cars 2, features an emphasis on action and cartoon violence that may make it too intense for the youngest of viewers. For older audiences, it’s quick and painless and more or less acceptable as far as these things go.
Picking up where the previous installment left off, Madagascar 3 finds our group of displaced NYC zoo critters – lion Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer), and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) – travelling to Monte Carlo to locate their compatriots, the scene-stealing penguins led by Skipper (series director Tom McGrath), and convince them to come home.
Also returning (mostly for comic relief) are lemur king Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his companions Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter).
But home isn’t so easy to get back to, especially with intense Animal Control officer Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) on their tail, aiming not so much to capture the animals but to take Alex’s head as a trophy. DuBois tracks our protagonists across Europe, from Paris to Rome to the Swiss Alps to London.
Along the way, the gang meets up with a travelling circus, which includes tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain), and sea lion Stefano (Martin Short). The circus, having recently fallen on hard times, is transformed by Alex into something magical again; meanwhile, animal rights groups aren’t likely to take to this franchise, with its pro-zoo and (now) pro-circus messages.
The penguins, once again, steal the show with their gung-ho irreverence. Cohen’s Julien also has some funny material, including a romantic subplot with an oversized grizzly. The rest of the characters have little to do other than move the plot along as quickly as possible. Despite the big-name cast, few of the voice performers leave much of an impact.
Madagascar 3 was co-written by Eric Darnell (who also worked on the previous two films) and Noah Baumbach (!), the indie-favorite director of Kicking & Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, and Greenberg.
This isn’t the first time an indie talent has done work on material like this – Charlie Kaufman did some (uncredited) polishing on Kung Fu Panda 2 – but you’d be hard-pressed to identify any input from Baumbach here.
The 3D here deserves special mention; not content to allow the technology to simply add an extra dimension of depth to the proceedings, the filmmakers throw everything they can at the screen, which includes confetti, fireworks, and (most frequently) flying animals.
You’re always reminded that this is a 3D feature, and the effect is done well; used purely as a gimmick (as it should be), the 3D here is more memorable than most other recent features.