DreamWorks Animation, always likely to stand in the shadow of the Disney-linked Pixar Animation Studios, comes up short again with Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.
Despite DreamWorks’ engaging Shrek movies, the studio’s second sequel to 2005’s bright and lively Madagascar is more a soggy Shark Tale than an inspiring Finding Nemo.
Madagascar 3 reaches unsuccessfully for inspiration. Something about finding your passion, rekindling that quest to be all you can be. But the movie’s story, dialogue and characters take a distant second-place to its visual beauty and technical achievement. Unlike its rivals at Pixar nearly always do, DreamWorks doesn’t match animation prowess with great storytelling.
The old Madagascar gang of Central Park Zoo escapees, as well as the series’ original voice talent, return for this unrewarding encore, but fresh, good lines and situations for them to inhabit don’t. And while Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) and Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) get prominent play in the new film, Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) are reduced to supporting players.
The latter regulars take back seats to Madagascar 3’s several new characters, most of them animals, but there’s also a troublesome human. Frances McDormand plays French animal control officer Capitaine Chantel DuBois. However the Oscar-winning actress tries to make DuBois work, this wickedly persistent, even grotesque animal hater is no more amusing than the rest of Madagascar 3.
Still regretful that they left their pampered zoo lives in New York City, Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman begin their not incredible new journey in Africa. The foursome’s crafty but maybe untrustworthy penguin peers having flown off to Monte Carlo in a monkey-powered super plane, Alex and the others left behind decide to follow the flightless birds to the casino where they’ve taken up profitable residence.
A frantic, prolonged chase on and above the streets of Monte Carlo ensues as DuBois begins her obsessive quest for Alex’s head. The chase sums Madagascar 3 up. It’s a movie populated by theme park-ride action as well as slapstick that’s more violent than funny or clever. There’s much soulless busyness, as if the busier the action is the less moviegoers will notice how thin the story is.
After escaping from DuBois in their makeshift aircraft, Marty, Alex, Gloria, Melman, the penguins and the rest crash in France. Conveniently, the crash site is near a circus train, which Alex figures will be good cover for his animals on the run. Inconveniently, Circus Zaragosa’s animal crew is led by a knife-wielding Russian tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston). He does not welcome the newcomers but, after the circus’ gregarious sea lion pleads for tolerance, uneasy accommodation is made.
The introduction of Circus Zaragosa adds new cute animal characters to the Madagascar cast. Foremost among them are Stefano, a goofy Italian sea lion (Martin Short), and Gia, a sleek Italian jaguar (Jessica Chastain). As likeable as Gia and Stefano are, the film’s writers, true to form, don’t give them much of interest to say.
Movies always involve some suspension of disbelief, but Madagascar 3 stretches the requirement to an unreasonable length. Massive leaps in the story and the nearly instant transformation of Circus Zaragosa from the worst circus in history to an epic spectacle that defies all physical possibilities drain what minimal credibility the film has. It’s all fiction and fantasy, but even children’s entertainment needs some grounding in reality. Color, action, cute animals and a half-hatched theme about rekindling passion don’t hit the target.
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