[Review] – Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

19 Jun

Title: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Year: 2012
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon
Writers: Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach, based on the characters by Mr. Darnell and Tom McGrath
Starring: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, Martin Short, Paz Vega, Frances McDormand
MPAA Rating: PG, some mild action and rude humor
Runtime: 93 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Metacritic: 59

The Madagascar franchise hasn’t been groundbreaking or anything, but it’s actually hard to find much fault with any of it, plus it’s pretty damn successful so it’s not like it’s stopping any time soon. The first film came in 2005 and made over $530 million worldwide, then three years after that we got the second one, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and that made over $600 million all around the world. So yeah, they’re profitable; not to mention that, to me personally, the second one was actually also an improvement in quality over the first one, which was still quite decent.

A third film in the franchise, then, was pretty much a given. Not only had the two first films been pretty successful, but the franchise has spawned a well-liked Nickelodeon series featuring the penguin characters, which are bound to soon get their own feature film spin-off, there has also been a TV Christmas special, plenty of video games, some live theater shows based on the property and attractions at theme parks around the world. So, yes, this is a pretty big franchise for DreamWorks Animation, and Jeffrey Katzenberg already said back in late 2010 that the plan has always been to have four Madagascar films when it’s all said and done.

So I went to see Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted handily expecting yet another amusing hour and a half at the theater with these animals. And even though that’s pretty much what it was, just a fun time at the movies, I also left thinking that, yet again, the new Madagascar movie was the best one of the bunch. And by whatever standards, having a film franchise improve upon itself with each subsequent film is a pretty awesome feat. This film retains the frenetic kind of silly energy that made the films such hits with the kids, but this time around it also feels like it’s a decidedly smarter film (though in an offbeat way), which will obviously appeal to the adult portion of its audience, and probably has something to do with the fact that Noah Baumbach co-wrote the screenplay.

This is still an animated mostly aimed at kids though, and trust me when I say they’ll love the hell out of this one. The foursome of animals we know by now, Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are still trying to find their way back to the Central Park Zoo, and, as usual, the penguins, King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) are still in tow.

This time around, though, their adventures take them all the way to Europe, being chased by the animal control unit and joining a traveling circus that they try to revitalize. It sounds super silly, and it is, manufactured to give us moments for kids to laugh at as they see these animals get in trouble, and to, of course, play that ‘I Like to Move It’ song yet again. And yet I found myself really like this one. I don’t even know precisely why, it was as though this franchise just embraced the inherent weirdness of these animals going to Monte Carlo to track their penguin buddies, and Frances McDormand does a kickass job of voicing the woman in charge of the animal control unit that chases afterwards.

That for me is what made Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted such a blast, the fact that the film just totally embraced how weird its scenarios were, and just absolutely amped it all up. It gets to the point in which these scenes are so bizarre that it kind of borders on the surreal, with King Julien actually going ahead and getting involved romantically with a tricycle-riding bear with whom he goes to the Vatican to meet the Pope, and there’s also a hot air balloon sequence that’s totally whacky, and countless awesome circus scenes. That total acknowledgement of its craziness meant the film could go all-in on its super colorful, hyperactive sequences, and give its really talented voice cast material with which they could have some fun. While the kids are having fun at the goofiness on-screen, adults will probably be left dazzled by the visual spectacle of it all.

That really talented voice cast I just mentioned above, not only consists of those known to the fans of the franchise from the previous films, by the way. Like I said, you have Ms. McDormand playing the official in charge of chasing the animals and who sings ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ to her co-workers, and there’s also Bryan Cranston as Vitaly the Russian Tiger, Jessica Chastain as Gia the Jaguar and Martin Short as Stefano the Sea Lion, all animals of that circus that makes up for some of the visually stunning sequences full of terrific colors and motions that disregards whatever notion of reality and logic and is that much better for it.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is, without a doubt, one of the most entertaining surprises I’ve had in my 2012 movie year. It may be totally silly stuff, but it’s done in such a hallucinatory sort of way, with amazing visuals and really awesome kind of bizarreness that I absolutely loved it. Hallucinatory really is a good word for this, it seems like the filmmakers were on mushrooms or something (and even if they weren’t I’m guessing this’ll become a go-to film for stoners), and yet at the same time it also feels smarter than the past films for a reason, it seems to make sense in how it totally doesn’t.

This is the best film in the franchise so far, it finally really seems like the filmmakers figured this one out. The story is just okay, but the narrative is driven forward totally based on the kooky opportunities this one has for those crazy visuals, and they go for broke every single time, and they come out on top a vast majority of the time. I don’t how this one got to work so damn well, it’s no great animated film, but it’s a really, really good one, plus it’s one of a very limited number of movies that it actually makes sense for you to want to see in 3D.

Grade: A-

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