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Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

by on June 7, 2012
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It should be noted that I am on the fence between ambivalence and hatred for the first “Madagascar” and skipped the second one altogether. I found just the incessantly obnoxious previews with the “I like to move it, move it” song too unbearable to sit through the movie, even with my kids running around.

So I was looking forward to “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” with the same aplomb that I would for, say, having blood drawn or maybe a rectal exam.

The third film in the series finds our homesick heroes Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman (David Schwimmer) ready to return to their beloved Bronx Zoo. Of course they have various penguin, ape and lemur friends in tow, although what will happen to them once they reach New York is a less-certain proposition.

They make it to France, where they attract the attention of Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), a superhuman spy inhabiting the body of an animal control officer. She’s the Sam Gerard to our heroes’ Richard Kimball, and the chase is on across Europe as the gang tries to find a ride home.

They end up hooking up with a troupe of downtrodden circus animals, led by a Russian tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) and the leopard Gia (Jessica Chastain). They tell the animals they’re famous American circus superstars and soon are running the circus trying to restore honor to the proud group.

The film’s second half is at times outstanding, marked by a wonderful circus sequence and a pretty terrific climactic chase scene. The colors are bright, the 3D works wonderfully, and everything gels. It’s different, exciting and wonderfully colorful.

The film still does plenty wrong, packing in an ADD-addled succession of rapid-fire gags, most of which fall flat, and the insistent ramming of Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), the irritating, pop-culture-obsessed whateverheis (a lemur?) into the frame. He’s given a joyless, laughless romantic subplot with a circus bear who is apparently the only of the animals who doesn’t speak English.

One segment that does not disappoint involves a hilariously dark gag where the gang thinks a character has died. Another’s response is the most gleefully sinister moment in an animated film since Steve Carell’s dismissive reaction to the perceived death of one of the little girls in “Despicable Me.”

Clearly intended more for younger kids than the Pixar films, “Madagascar 3” isn’t a timeless classic, but it’s not meant to be. It won’t change your life or your children’s lives, but your kids will enjoy it, and you probably will, too, on some level.