A big top curtain call of the wild
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, June 8, 2012
The increasingly tenuous connection of each successive “Madagascar” movie to the franchise’s original premise -- homesick New York zoo animals at large in a scary world -- is stretched pretty thin in “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” And that is a very good thing.
A very, very good thing. The third outing in the popular series of animated adventures about Alex the lion (voice of Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) may be the best of the bunch, simply because it busts the leash that tethers it to anything resembling reality.
The level of divine lunacy it aspires to is signaled early on.
To escape from Monaco -- where our heroes have traveled from Africa searching for the airplane they hope will take them home -- an order is given to shake the Monte Carlo animal control officer who is determined to stop them from leaving: “Deploy banana gun.”
That the order is issued by a talking penguin, to a mute chimpanzee, is funny enough. But the fact that the animal control officer is played by Frances McDormand, doing a deliciously silly French accent, and that her character then engages in a slo-mo series of “Matrix”-style, bullet-time banana-dodging is absolutely sublime.
And it only goes uphill from there. “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” may be the best use of 3-D animation we’ve seen since “Up.” Structured around a prolonged yet picturesque chase that takes Alex and company from Monaco to France to Italy to England -- all the while pursued by McDormand’s Inspector-Javert-like Captain DuBois -- it’s a story that lends itself naturally to visual-enhancement technology.
It doesn’t hurt that most of the action takes place in a traveling circus, where the fugitives decide to hide from DuBois. The antics of a hoop-jumping tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the sea-lion cannonball (Martin Short) contribute mightily to sequences of amazing animation, some in eye-popping neon, that rival those of Disney’s 1940 classic “Fantasia.”
Yes, it’s that good.
The film is also pretty hilarious, thanks mainly to DuBois, who, like an angry Energizer bunny, just keeps going and going and going. A lot of the credit also must go to veteran “Madagascar” screenwriter Eric Darnell, who is here joined by writer Noah Baumbach (“The Fantastic Mr. Fox”). Their script isn’t just funny, it’s fun.
A parade of laughs? That, you expect. What’s really surprising about “Madagascar 3” is just how moving it ultimately is, largely because of the emotionally engaging character animation. A tricycle-riding bear named Sonya -- who never speaks, just growls plaintively -- is a case in point. Her unlikely romance with Sacha Baron Cohen’s Julien the lemur king (of course, he’s back) is actually kind of . . . sweet.
So is the movie. It’s a kid’s Cirque de Soleil, for a lot less money.
Contains some mild bathroom humor.