There’s probably not much I could say to necessarily convince any of you to either see or not see Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, the latest in the animated franchise that follows four former Central Park Zoo animals that left their confines to find themselves on the road. Generally speaking, unless you have kids or are a fans of these films, which I genuinely am, there’s not much I could probably say to sway your opinion in any director. It’s colourful and funnier than the previous instalment, and it boasts the best animation in the series yet. But again, if you don’t already have that connection to these characters, there’s probably not much I can say to sway you.
After growing bored in Africa, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and the annoying king of the lemurs, Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) decide to meet up with their penguin and simian friends in Monte Carlo where they’ve been running the tables at casinos. After blowing their cover and drawing the attention of feared animal control officer and big game hunter Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand), the animal friends meet up with a group of European circus performers (including Bryan Cranston as an insecure and angry Russian tiger, Jessica Chastain as a leopard, and Martin Short as an Italian stereotype… I mean, seal) hoping to land an American touring contract despite the fact that they stink. It’s up to the former big city performers to whip the trained animals back into shape.
Generally following the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy of making a sequel, a lot of the jokes and gags in this outing feel similar to the ones in the other two films, but the energy level has definitely been upped since the last entry. Maybe it’s the European setting – which allows for plenty of clever movie references to La Vie en Rose, 8 ½, and The Thomas Crown Affair, to name just a small handful – but everyone seems to be having a lot more fun in this one than the other two. The addition of talents like Chastain, Cranston, and especially a gleefully deranged McDormand seems to take the rest of the voice cast to another level.
It’s just a shame that even more than the other two films, the plot definitely stays closest to Stiller’s character, which might be because his close friend Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) worked on the script. Then again, the film also boasts an increased role for the series’ much beloved penguin characters, finally giving them roles larger than just being comedic relief. Rock has a few moments, but not nearly as many as Stiller and the new cast, and Smith and Schwimmer are great sports but they seem somewhat left out. Cohen also seems to have had his role beefed up with a bizarre, but indelibly funny subplot involving his character and his love affair with a tricycle riding bear.
Visually, Madagascar 3 bests its predecessors with some really stunning 3D and elaborate set pieces that could never be done in live action films and are rarely as ambitious in animated films. The casino escape and the elaborate circus finale are dazzling and entertaining for both kids and adults. Even when the film feels like its admittedly running a little long, the animators manage to keep the energy level up with a New York set denouement involving an airship and a pool full of cobras. It doesn’t really add anything new to the genre, but as a summertime outing for the family it’s quite satisfying.