Aug 02, 2012|
(USA) Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon. Voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short. Category I. 93 minutes. Opens Aug 2.
First things first: the level of enjoyment you will get from “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” largely depends on level of your endurance for a song called “Afro Circus,” which goes “Da-da-dadadada, da-da Circus; Da-da-dadadada, da-da Afro! Polka dot, polka dot, Afro-Circus!” and takes up 10 percent of the movie’s running time.
Like the repetition of that song, the third installment of DreamWorks’ franchise is an exercise on excess. Going bigger, louder, faster and 3D, “Mad 3” sees its charm momentarily diminish in sequences of frenzied antics and neon colors. However, by sticking to the billion-dollar-making animation series’ built-in winning silliness and employing a star-studded voice cast, the film still delivers the hokum in an entertaining fashion.
Directed by “Madagascar” resident helmers Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath as well as “Shrek 2’s” Conrad Vernon, and penned by acclaimed writer-director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Greenberg”), “Mad 3” moves its action to Europe, where Pixar’s “Cars 2” recently paid a visit (and crashed, in case you don’t recall). The story picks up where the last film left off—on the African savannah. Curiously, after having a blast and making new friends in “Escape 2 Africa,” mild-mannered lion Alex (Ben Stiller), hyperactive zebra Marty (Chris Rock), sassy hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and nerdy giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) are now homesick and want to get back to New York’s Central Park Zoo. In order to do so, they snorkel their way to Monte Carlo to find their resourceful friends, the kinky lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and the plane-flying penguins and monkeys who are in town for a wild casino holiday.
But upon their reunion, the whole menagerie is hunted by the movie’s villain, manic local animal control officer Captain Chantel DuBois (voiced by a heavy French-accented Frances McDormand), and find refuge in a down-on-its-luck traveling animal circus. Here, they meet surly Siberian tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), sexy Spanish jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain), emotional and eager Italian sea lion Stefano (Martin Short) and a quartet of Cockney dogs with violent tendencies. If anything, “Mad 3” contains the most ethnic stereotypes I’ve ever seen in a movie; though some may consider them inappropriate, they’re hilariously done by a lineup of talented American actors with spot-on fake accents.
A new interspecies romance is also featured in this sequel, this time featuring King Julien and a gigantic bicycle-riding bear named Sonya. Big laughs follow as Julien buys Sonya a Ducati and the pair proceeds with PDA sessions across the Vatican City. In Baumbach’s second foray into animation writing following the phenomenal “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” jokes are extremely fast (judging from the audience’s reaction during my viewing, few caught the fleeting Mia Farrow gag), but can’t match up to the quirky genius and intellect that sizzled in “Fox”—save maybe the moment when Vitaly yells at a class-conscious colleague, “That is Bolshevik!” after the latter complains about their new friends not being “circus folks.”
It turns out that the circus has one chance of touring the US if its members can impress the promoter during their European shows, and so Alex and his pals make it their mission to come up with great new acts to save the circus and subsequently return to the Big Apple. The circus show sequences, featuring trapeze, rope-dancing and other stunts, are exuberant if not mind-blowing, accompanied by a trippy, flamboyant palette and Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
The not-too-smart humor, visual spectacles and constant use of pop tunes may not salvage “Mad 3’s” rushed pace and unoriginality, but it makes the film a fun watch, especially for children and families. Plus, there’s a mash-up of “Afro Circus” and the series’ theme song “I Like to Move-It, Move-It”—what more can you ask for?