June 10, 2012

THE SHOWBUZZDAILY REVIEW: “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”

MADAGASCAR 3:  EUROPE’S MOST WANTED – Worth A Ticket – A Circus Indeed


There’s a certain luxury in being DreamWorks Animation.   Pixar gets the awards and the acclaim, but it’s also held to an impossibly high standard:  if Cars 2 had been a DreamWorks movie, it would have been considered a perfectly reasonable entertainment, but coming from Pixar, it was treated like a personal insult, a betrayal of everything the studio stood for.  The team at DreamWorks is in the franchise business, and makes as many sequels as it does anything else, while any time Pixar makes a sequel, it has to prove itself worthy of the brand.  (Toy Story 3, yes; Cars 2, no.)  DWA doesn’t have to worry much about plot, character, or even internal logic, as long as it delivers some fun and a few decent jokes, while Pixar is expected to provide a Dickensian level of narrative as a matter of routine, or else something is terribly wrong. Such is the price of being the best.

And so we have the silly MADAGASCAR 3:  EUROPE’S MOST WANTED, a movie that barely makes any sense, but as it’s bright, colorful, fast-moving and sometimes funny along the way… good enough for DreamWorks.   This third in the Madagascar series picks up more or less where the last picture left off:  the penguins and chimps have gone off to Monte Carlo, and our heroes lion Alex (Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) are wondering if they’re ever returning to bring the gang back, finally, to New York and their home at the Central Park zoo.

They decide to make their own way to the Riviera, which leads them into the clutches of the movie’s best new character, an evil French animal control officer named Captain Dubois, wonderfully voiced by Frances McDormand as the Inspector Javert (she even gets to sing!) of the animal world.  After a zippy car chase through the streets of Monaco, our beasts hook up with a traveling circus, which brings in a whole bunch of new faces:  fearsome but troubled Russian tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), luscious Italian jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain) and clownish sea lion Stefano (Martin Short) leading the new pack.  After a certain amount of nonsense, Alex and the others join the circus, pretending that they know what they’re doing, and stage successively more fantastic big-top pageants all over the world, with Dubois in pursuit.

That’s all there is to the movie, except for the most obvious kind of plot development:  Vitaly will have to reveal and confront his fears, Alex will eventually realize Gia is a cute fellow jungle cat, etc.  But the DWA folks know their formula, and the movie is a canny mix of spectacle and the occasional adult joke (not many kids will know why it’s funny to refer to 9 Duane Reades on a single block in NY, and the word “Bolshevik” is used for its similar sound to a considerably more mature word). When things threaten to flag, just cut to the penguins for some one-liners, or to the sweetly absurd romance between the tiny Lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and a giant bicycling bear who for some reason is the only animal in the movie who can’t speak.

Directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath have been behind all the movies in the series (McGrath is also the voice of the penguin Skipper), joined this time by Conrad Vernon, and Darnell co-wrote the script with–of all people–Greenberg and The Squid and the Whale indie auteur Noah Baumbach, who presumably was in the market for a big-studio paycheck (and of course has professional ties with Stiller).  The movie is wonderfully colorful and paced like a rocket, and it makes extremely good use of its 3D, with the circus environment proving an ideal excuse to have things (and characters) propelled at the audience, notably in wonderful tightrope,  trapeze and human cannonball sequences.   The lead actors don’t get to do anything they didn’t already in the other movies, but along with McDormand, Cranston, Chastain and especially Short (who’s made for this kind of thing) liven things up.

The DreamWorks Animation features are sugary, carbonated drinks compared to the fine wine of Pixar, and in only 2 weeks, we’ll have the latter’s Brave on hand, which will–we hope–achieve the standard Pixar level of greatness and chase the taste of Cars 2 out of our mouths.  But who, apart perhaps from NY’s Mayor Bloomberg, doesn’t enjoy the empty calories of soda?  Madagascar 3, at least, is Real Coke:  it hits the spot.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."