You know how the Ice Age movies are still pointlessly titled Ice Age in spite of the sequels not being set during that time period? Well, it’s very similar to how the two sequels to Dreamworks Animation’s Madagascar have little to nothing to do with the isle of Madagascar. I went to see the third installment the other night.
Directed by Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon and Eric Darnell, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted brings back the animals who escaped the Central Park Zoo for more escapades in another part of the world. During their voyage, they encounter new friends and foes, many of which cost them their screen time. Is this a bad film? Is it depressing that the most memorable aspect of a movie is a zebra dancing with a rainbow-coloured afro wig? Let’s examine, shall we?
We rejoin Alex the arrogant lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the loud and dim-witted zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the socially awkward giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the “black sassy” hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). They’re still in Africa where Alex’s parents have inexplicably been written out, pointless dream sequences take place and characters mug into the camera relentlessly to create one of the more obnoxiously annoying 3D-films ever. They all wish to leave Africa, though, and return to New York, so they travel to Monte Carlo to find the Skipper (voiced by McGrath) and his band of badass penguins and the chimp brothers (one voiced by Vernon) intending to use their aircraft to get back home.
Well, you guys did just swim from Africa to France within the blink of an eye so getting to America shouldn’t require you to steal the penguins’ plane, should it?
Anyway, under the pursuit of an animalistic, ax crazy and seemingly invincible Animal Control captain, Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) the creatures eventually make their way to a train car which they use to escape. Turns out this train contains circus animals who coincidentally will travel to America, but only if their show is appreciated in London. The leaders of the circus animals are a brutish and violent Russian tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), a jaguar named Gia (Jessica Chastain) with whom Alex falls in love, and an annoying seal voiced by Martin Short. Together, they all travel through Europe, Alex and company having convinced Vitaly that they’re all circus animals themselves, a lie which becomes harder to maintain when it turns out the actual circus animals are lousy. Uh-oh! How quirky.
A subplot involves the lemur King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) falling deeply in love with a circus bear named Sonya (Frank Welker). The scenes where he tries to win her over and bring her on dates are some of the funnier scenes in the film. Too bad most of Julian’s screen time is either him bullying his aide Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and adorable little Mort (Andy Richter) or him dancing to a popular/annoying (they’re the same thing these days) pop song just because, well, it wouldn’t be a Dreamworks film without a pop song playing every 10 minutes. I swear, as the film was getting started these guys couldn’t wait ten minutes without giving Julian a dance number.
Yeah, Madagascar 3 has some very irritating drawbacks such as the aforementioned pointless pop culture references, the constant mugging which is somehow even more obnoxious in 2D (the format in which I saw it) and certain jokes that don’t work. But surprisingly, I didn’t much mind the rest of the film. Dreamworks – say of them what you will – usually display a knack for making the audience laugh and a lot of their slapstick comedy genuinely works. They can be cleverly bizarre too, such as in the scenes with Sonya and Julian but I have a feeling Cohen wrote those bits himself.
I pretty much found most things in this film “okay”, with the exception of one element which was just brilliant – the villain! The scenes with Frances MdDormand as the completely insane and indestructable DuBois made me laugh and they made me laugh hard! The animation on her, the design, the expressions, her insane behaviour, her having “Non je ne regrette rien” as her leitmotif. I honestly wish the movie was just about her. I’d have given it 5/5.
Madagascar 3 is a mixed bag over-all. It does have annoyingly “in your face” visuals merely for the sake of showing off the 3D, it does sortof hurt the film that it can’t keep its hands off all those pop songs and it does have a problem with making sure all main characters get an arc. The most intriguing arc is given to Vitaly the tiger, who is only so angry because of his fall from grace in a failed circus act ages ago. Characters like Melman and Gloria get very little to do and Marty is just there to spew stuff that sounds funny in the trailer. But then again, we have followed these characters through development already so it hardly matters much.
Honestly Madagascar 3 is worth seeing. It does have faults but hell, I think it makes up for it with its hilarious villain, some very nicely rendered imagery, its bizarre bear-lemur love story and the Vitaly arc. Also, your kids will surely love it.