Picking up directly where the last sequel left off — except there’s no mention of Alex’s parents — ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ is another misadventure with our favorite quartet of runaways from the Central Park Zoo (Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith reprise their familiar roles). Fans of the first two films will find this third installment a satisfying chapter, if not a winning conclusion, to the animals’ endless quest of making it back home to New York. Others might think it the same old, same old with several good chuckles sprinkled throughout. Personally, this animated voyage out of Africa through the streets of Monte Carlo Quarter and aboard a circus train is probably the best of the bunch. With a great deal more heart at its center and full of the same colorful charisma as the other two, the script by Eric Darnell, who also serves as co-director, and Noah Baumbach, director of the wonderful ‘The Squid and the Whale,’ delivers with a heartwarming message of “home is where the heart is.”
The filmmakers this time around amp up the energy level, transporting viewers from a mud miniature of New York City to the shores of the French Riviera with a simple scene change. How exactly a lion, a zebra, a giraffe and a hippo covered such a vast distance with King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) in tow is never explained? (If it was that easy, why not attempt it sooner and save everyone two sequels?) Nevertheless, once there, the group crashes the famed casino and stirs a fiasco that requires the services of a relentless, determined animal control officer, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). The frenzied, high-speed chase with a fossil-fuel guzzler and a quintet of red mopeds that soon follows but also seems to last forever pretty much sets the dictum for the rest of the movie — a rapid, hurried pace with a spectacular finish.
DuBois’s unyielding pursuit of the motley gang is part of the reason the story moves with such haste, forcing them, now with the always charming penguins tagging along, to join a failing circus. The other reason is likely due to the shorten attention span of younger viewers, which I’m sad to report also seems to be working with the adults as well. In either case, the DuBois character is a nice touch balancing mildly suspenseful action pieces with good hearty laughs at her expense. After a silly ‘Matrix’-like shootout with bananas, her resolute personality makes her an amusingly interesting villain, if somewhat scary at times, with a hidden marvelous talent for belting out Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne regrette rien.” Her just deserts arrive not only with gratifying results but also while in the middle of a stupendous extravaganza of color and feats relating to an earlier joke.
The one moment where the story finally stops for a short breather is also an opportunity to flesh out a trio of circus animals dealing with their own problems. The main act is a Siberian tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), who’s developed a form of stage fright after a fiery accident left him hairless. Stefano the Italian sea lion (Martin Short) doesn’t really have much talent, but his cheerful desire to entertain leads him to discover his real passion of being shot out of a canon, which as it turns out is also Marty’s (Rock) passion. Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) doesn’t seem to have any issues but is an overly confident and protective feline that soon becomes Alex’s love interest. Our heroes’ time with the circus is one gag after another, delivered at lightning speed, while the subplot of financial woes and following one’s heart slowly comes to light.
Like many of the CG-animated movies from DreamWorks, the ‘Madagascar’ films don’t pose much of a challenge to the excellence of Pixar, although ‘Cars 2’ and to some degree ‘Brave’ has me sometimes rethinking that sentiment. Nonetheless, the studio has continuously being churning out plenty of entertaining yarns, and this latest installment to the popular franchise is no different, offering an unexpected yet substantial twist to the gang’s journey home. I was already enjoying the splendid visuals and lighthearted humor (Marty’s afro-circus gag just cracks me up) before Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman are suddenly allowed a different point of view of their former concrete home, followed by the dispiriting effects of their return. It all ends with a feast for the eyes spectacle that brings a smile and a feeling of everything coming full circle, finally discovering the home the quartet has being searching for.