Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Run Time: 1 hour 25 minutes, Rated PG
Starring (voices of): Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Frances McDormand, Andy Richter, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short
Written by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach
Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
The third time is definitely the charm when it comes to the animated Madagascar franchise. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is original, hilarious, meaningful and clearly one of the best animated films so far in 2012.
Needless to say, this came as a complete shock. I nearly hated the first film, 2005's Madagascar, where we met this group of zoo animals who were dreaming of returning home. I too, dreamed of returning home from the theater in what I thought to be a thoroughly uninspired and unfunny debut film. Then in 2008, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa hit theaters, and my low expectations weren't even met. Yes, the franchise was very successful commercially, but to me they were of the throw-away animated variety in the vein of Mars Needs Momsor Megamind.
All of that has changed with Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. To bring you up to speed, Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippopotamus lived at the Central Park Zoo in New York and they bust out in the first film with the help of some very clever penguins and chimpanzees. The group winds up in Madagascar, longing to get back home to NY. The second film takes them to Africa, and that is where we find our friends at the beginning of this film, still wanting to get back home but now stranded by the penguins and chimps who have flown off to Monte Carlo.
Alex has nightmares of growing old in Africa and never getting back to his home at the zoo. With their lemur pals - King Julien, Maurice and Mort - the group head off to Monte Carlo to find the penguins with hopes that they will fly them back to NY.
In Monte Carlo, they reunite with the penguins and the chimps but the plane is damaged. They come across a circus train where they meet a few new characters - Vitaly the Tiger, Gia the Jaguar and Stefano the Sea Lion, amongst others. The circus train is hoping to put on a big show that will fetch them their first American tour, so the Madagascar crew falsely identify themselves as circus animals so that they can join the circus and therefore win their chance at returning state-side.
Kids stuff, I know, but from the opening dream sequence, this Madagascar movie is downright funny. For the first time, I actually cared a little about these characters and they were all given equal time to shine in their own ways. The very talented indy-writer/director Noah Baumbach is credited as a screen-writer along with long-time Madagascar scribe Eric Darnell, and the combination of talent infuses these old characters with new life. United with brilliant vocal talent and beautifully bright and spirited 3D, Madagascar 3 is a spectacular achievement in animation.
But what would any animated movie be without a villain? Madagascar 3 contains one of the best animated villains of the past decade in Captain Chantel DuBois, a French Animal Control Captain intent on hunting Alex the Lion to mount his head on her wall of prized catches, which contains everything from bears to birds to puppies. Yes Chantel has Cruella De Ville in her veins, with the fierce tenacity of The Terminator. She isn't the dumb villain who spills her evil plots before striking, but rather she is an intensely determined baddie who is pretty much unstoppable. Her presence just adds to the fun of the film.
The first half of Madagascar 3 is mindless entertainment - a flurry of laugh-out-loud moments suited perfectly for both children and adults. Very slyly, all of this fun ends up having a purpose near the end. There are lessons of teamwork, friendship, and making the most of things. There are great messages of reaching for the impossible, but also learning to love what you are. I don't quite recall a recent animated movie so packed with inspiration, delivered so smoothly and effectively.
Perhaps my favorite scenes in the film involve the lemur King Julien, who encounters Sonya the Bear and falls in love. Stefano the Sea Lion is a new kind of animated character - CG all over with the facial animation of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Having low expecatations can sometimes deliver great movie-going experiences when the film is actually worthwhile. This film not only exceeded my expectations but left me hoping that there are more adventures for Alex and the gang down the road.
Does the gang end up getting back to the zoo? Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.
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