The greatest pleasure of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is that it’s nothing more or less than what it is. There is not a scene, a character, a shot, or a line of dialogue that falls within the realm of plausibility. It’s a red-blooded cartoon – physically impossible, narratively unbound, totally absurd. It was a wonderful experience. I think we sometimes put too much pressure on ourselves to apply meaning to every movie we see; films like this are like a shot in the arm, for they give us license to put our brains on autopilot and take it at face value. I savored the humor, the charm, and the visuals, the latter of which are quite imaginative and surprisingly enhanced by the process of 3D. That shouldn’t stop you from saving your money and seeing it in traditional 2D, however, especially since you will be seeing a brighter picture.
Picking up exactly where its predecessor left off, the film begins with our favorite New York City Zoo castaways – the lion Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), the zebra Marty (voiced by Chris Rock), the hippo Gloria (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith), and the giraffe Melman (voiced by David Schwimmer) – swimming from the African continent to Monte Carlo in an effort to find the Penguins. Their arrival and subsequent infiltration of a casino was well planned but poorly executed; they’re immediately noticed by the elegantly-dressed gamblers, who run away screaming. This attracts the attention of Captain Chantel DuBois of Monaco Animal Control (voiced by Frances McDormand), a black-clad, military-like matron who lives for the conquest of hunting and stuffing animals, specifically their heads. All she needs is a lion to complete the picture.
Apparently indestructible (she can literally break through brick walls, concrete, and glass and only have to reapply her lipstick), a skilled ninja-like acrobat, and armed with an inhuman ability to crawl on the ground and sniff out animals on the run, DuBois takes part in a breathtaking action sequence that begins with a car chase and ends with all the characters dangling from the opening of a makeshift airplane. When the castaways finally do escape, they determine to work their way back to New York City. Lo and behold, they take shelter on board a travelling circus train, where the animal act could be transported to the U.S. if their tryout in London is successful. The leader, a Russian tiger named Vitaly (voiced by Bryan Cranston), is an angry soul who lost his spirit for performing after years of greasing himself up and jumping through hoops no bigger than an ordinary ring.
Under constant threat from Vitaly, who has the ability to throw knives, the castaways are told in no uncertain terms that only circus animals are allowed on the train. Naturally, they lie. They also take it upon themselves to train the circus animals, not only because the Penguins bought the deed from their original owners but also because they’re genuinely awful. They befriend an Italian jaguar named Gia (voiced by Jessica Chastain) and an Italian sea lion named Stefano (voiced by Martin Short). The former, sleek and beautiful, is a trapeze artist. The latter, although a few coconuts short of a palm tree, is eager to have himself shot out of a cannon. Meanwhile, the lemur King Julien (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen), immediately falls in love with a gigantic tutu-wearing bear that rides around on a tiny bicycle. She’s the only animal character that doesn’t talk and actually looks a little something like a real bear.
The circus’ opening night in London is an astounding display of visual creativity. The animals defy gravity as they swoop, flip, and fly through gigantic neon-colored hoops that hover in the air. Melman and Gloria perform a tight-rope act across glowing chords that look like enormous guitar strings, and Alex and Gia team up for awe-inspiring trapeze stunts. This is the one scene that exemplifies the best utilization of the 3D process; yes, characters fly at you in gimmicky ways, but at the same time, we feel immersed in an explosion of sight and sound. The motivating force behind this revamped show, on the basis of Alex’s motivational speech earlier in the film, was Cirque du Soleil. The characters never actually utter those exact words, but we know exactly what they’re talking about.
There are many genuinely funny moments, although admittedly, children are unlikely to pick up on them. Consider, for example, the Penguins’ sarcastic, disparaging comparisons between the French and Canadian work philosophies. Also consider the scene in which DuBois finds herself without backup, her entire team lying in hospital beds wearing full body casts; it seems that, when you passionately sing the French anthem “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien,” it inspires such devotion to a cause that the body can actually break through the hardened casts. Isn’t it nice, how the filmmakers had both parents and children in mind? Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may be little more than unbridled cartoon wackiness, but let it not be said that adults aren’t just as deserving of pure entertainment.
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