The “Madagascar” franchise has always been a strange one to me. It’s never been as consistently funny as the “Shrek” series, have the likeable main characters as “Ice Age,” the toe-tapping dance numbers of “Happy Feet” or a tenth of the charm of any Pixar film, but somehow it’s done well enough to warrant a third installment.
Turns out DreamWorks Animation made the right decision answering the call of the wild one more time as “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is not just the best one of the series by far, but one of those rare movies that’s magical for the entire family.
Series veteran Eric Darnell teams with Noam Baumbach (“Fantastic Mr. Fox”) on screenwriting responsibilities and the pair crafts an inspired, sharply-written script as Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are ready to leave Africa and return to their former home at the Central Park Zoo in New York. Their plan to fly home with their old pals — the military-precise penguins and sophisticated chimps [the supporting characters who’ve carried the bulk of the comedy in the first two films] — goes slightly awry after they encounter top animal control officer/big game hunter Capt. Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand).
DuBois is a refreshingly over the top villain who won’t rest until she has Alex’s head mounted on her wall. She runs through walls, jumps off skyscrapers and has unerring aim with her deadly tranquilizer gun. DuBois gives the film a sense of urgency and energy that the previous films lacked and give the zoo animals a reason to want to go home beyond just missing the roar of the crowd.
The gang loses DuBois by joining a traveling circus, where they meet Vitaly, a Russian tiger (Bryan Cranston), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short). With Vitaly feeling like his best days are behind him and the rest of the performers lacking inspiration, it’s up to Alex and company to encourage them to re-embrace their greatness. And that they do in a tremendously imaginative sequence set to Katy Perry’s “Firework” that makes excellent use of the film’s 3D format. It’s a mesmerizing scene that perfectly captures the thrill of the circus and the boundless possibilities of the big screen.
It may have taken awhile, but the creators have found the perfect formula to really make the “Madagascar” franchise work and this installment should definitely be on every family’s must see summer movie list.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10