By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — We generally think of movie franchises as dwindling in quality as the sequels mount up. But occasionally, as with this third trip to Madagascar, just the opposite is true.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, unquestionably the best entry in the series, is a splendid example of what might be called animalimation, an unabashed kidflick featuring a mix of the animal kingdom for kids of all ages, certainly including mine.
Madagascar in 2005 was a bright and bouncy, cute and cuddly animated comedy about four domesticated beasts from the Central Park Zoo, easy to watch but nearly as easy to resist.
But 2008’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa was a sequel that, although more workmanlike than inspired, was more than an equal, funnier, pointedly poignant this time, and more technically impressive as well.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted raises the bar yet again, opening where its predecessor left off, with the quartet of charming four-legged creatures stuck in Africa until they can be transported to the south of France.
As before, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are trying to get home to their zoo in New York City.
In this adventure, they go to Monaco to join their penguin and chimp buddies for a heist that goes wrong, bringing a determined and vindictive animal control officer, Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand), on their tail.
To blend in and become less conspicuous, they join a traveling circus on a tour of European cities. Alex falls for Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and they help Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short) rediscover their love of performing.
Directors Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, and Conrad Vernon — the first two of whom having collaborated on the first two installments — work from a script by Darnell and Noah Baumbach that introduces an appealing array of new characters.
And as the globetrotting proceeds from Monaco to Rome to London to the Big Apple, the avalanche of sight gags and wordplay never lets up, and the directorial triumvirate even manages to conjure a few heartwarming moments as well.
This best-of-show Madagascar 3 is breezily paced, as witty as it is exhilarating, and full of colorful, eye-popping visuals, in extraordinarily dynamic 3-D with energetic voice work. Standouts in the voice cast are McDormand as the hilarious villain and Sacha Baron Cohen as King Julien, an ardent suitor of a lemur returning from the previous sequel whose romantic attachment is almost too much to bear.
So we’ll stow away 3½ stars out of 4 for the wisecracking, endearing, come-to-life box of animal (joke) crackers, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. The quality of this threequel should make at least one more adventure a 4-gone conclusion.