Third Time’s a Charm: Familiar Zoo Escapees Make Circus Antics a Smash

City Pulse | June 4, 2012
It might have taken three directors to make the third installment in the “Madagascar” franchise, but the compound collaboration has resulted in one very impressive animated comedy. Noah Baumbach’s screenwriting contributions, alongside franchise-regular co-writer/director Eric Darnell, are in evidence.

Audience chuckles and belly laughs come at regular intervals. The level of visual and narrative sophistication on display is astonishing. There are no fart jokes to distract from the fun-loving intention of animal characters that have become like family members to at least a couple of generations of young moviegoers. The filmmakers pull off a neat ploy of continuously raising the stakes for audience expectations before paying off on gently implied promises with breathtaking virtuosic sequences. An eye-popping chase scene over the rooftops of Monte Carlo’s unmistakable skyline really hits the mark. As well, the film’s explosion of color during a circus-themed third act climax is an over-the-top expression of dynamic animation at its best. The filmmakers’ obvious Cirque du Soliel-inspiration for the climax takes delightful three-dimensional flight at just the right moment in the story.

A surrealistic black-and-white dream sequence opens the film as a tip-off to adult spectators that the movie will amuse their advanced intellects. It goes without saying that returning voice-actors Ben Stiller (as Alex the lion), Chris Rock (as Marty the zebra), Jada Pinkett Smith (as Gloria the hippo), and David Schwimmer (as Melman the giraffe), all give knockout performances. A clever editorial choice to place a circus bear named Sonya with the mute trait of an actual bear, brings the animated animal world one step closer to mirroring reality. Sonya’s inability to talk hardly stops Cedric the Entertainer’s aye-aye creature Maurice from falling for her hairy charms. Maurice has a fetish that he’s none too embarrassed about expressing when opportunity presents itself.

The plot couldn’t be simpler. Our familiar animal buddies are trying to leave Madagascar and return to their previous home in the New York City zoo. A brief layover in Monte Carlo brings them to the attention of Capitaine Chantel DuBois (amazingly voiced in a biting French accent by Frances McDormand). DuBois is “part bloodhound and part Cruella DeVil — with a little Edith Piaf thrown in for good measure.” There’s no telling if McDormand herself performed the French song DuBois belts out in a surprising bit of chanteuse inspiration, but the musical diversion arrives with an ear-pleasingly authentic Gallic slap and tickle.

DuBois wants the severed heads of Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman, hanging on her trophy wall. Our motely crew finds refuge in the company of a train-travelling circus with its own hose of kooky animal personalities. Jessica Chastain’s slinky jaguar Gia holds some romantic promise for Alex if he can just figure out how to come up with a circus act impressive enough to gain the sponsorship of a London promoter.

It took the orchestrated effort of roughly 200 highly skilled artists to make “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” So, it’s all the more rewarding when such a high-wire act of ensemble inspiration comes together to form a movie overflowing with hilarious surprises. For once, even the 3D aspects of an animated movie are calculated to make the audience duck in their seats a few times as objects seem to fly from the screen. “Madagascar 3” is a winner no matter how you slice it.

Rated PG. 99 mins. (A) (Five Stars — out of five/no halves)

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