Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012)
October 14, 2012 2 Comments
Watching the rest of his life stretch out before him as the penguins depart Africa in a monkey-powered plane, Alex (Ben Stiller) realises that he is still pining for his glory days at New York City Zoo, and sets off in pursuit. Arriving in Monte Carlo with Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), they manage to track the penguins to a nearby casino, only to be intercepted by Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) of Monaco Animal Control. Joining a travelling circus — comprising a tiger (Bryan Cranston), a jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and a sea lion (Martin Short) — in order to flee, the animals attempt to impress an American talent scout in London so that they can take their various acts back home to NYC.
Four years after Escape 2 Africa, DreamWorks Animation’s second highest grossing franchise returns for a third jaunt across the globe. Charting the final leg of our heroes’ journey back to the United States (though not necessarily the last outing for the franchise), Europe’s Most Wanted takes in Africa, Monte Carlo, Rome, London and New York, in addition to the third dimension.
While DreamWorks Animation’s apparent renaissance is usually seen as starting with the first Kung Fu Panda movie, the Madagascar films have always had considerably more to offer than the mere stunt casting and pop-culture references attributed to the studio’s earlier works. Although it may inherit the slightly clunkier character design and pre-credits sing-song from Shark Tale and Shrek, the franchise — each instalment directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath – has been so splendidly absurd as to give it an identity very much of its own.
Staying true to form, the first half of Madagascar 3 is an absolute (cheese) dream of impossible stunts and quick-fire one-liners as our heroes — having apparently snorkelled to France from Africa — attempt to infiltrate a local casino in search of four militarised penguins and a pair of chimpanzees disguised as the King of Versailles. Scored to perfection, and referencing everything from Mission: Impossible to Terminator, this is the franchise at its best, as the arrival of McDormand’s unstoppable animal control officer gives way to one of the most breathlessly exhilarating chase sequences of the year.
The supporting cast have always been the highlight of the Madagascar films, and this opening act makes fantastic use of these franchise favourites. You can’t help but grin inanely as the penguins take the wheel, the chimps attack DuBois with a banana gun and King Julien bursts once more into song — to the endless disdain of Cedric the Entertainer’s long-suffering Aye-Aye, Maurice. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the next film in the series is set to drop Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria to focus on the penguins alone.
Unfortunately, such kinetic charge cannot be maintained, and the film quickly changes gears as a whole new set of characters are introduced courtesy of the travelling circus. Not only does this mean that there’s even less opportunity for the ancillary characters to shine (although Julien does get a romantic subplot involving Sonya the circus bear), but there isn’t much for Melman or Gloria to do, either — while an early rivalry between Alex and Marty never really gets the chance to develop. A group of British bulldogs aside, it’s not even as though the newcomers are particularly interesting, and while the various circus acts may dazzle and delight, there isn’t as much character to them as you might have hoped.
Come the finale, the sheer size of the animated ensemble makes it difficult for any individual character to get the resolution that they perhaps deserve. There’s a brief scene showing how much the main quarter have grown, a nice callback to King Julien’s plans to dominate New York and even a reprieve of “I Like To Move It”, but for the most part the finale fails to fulfil. That said, Madagascar was never going to be a trilogy in the way that Toy Story was, and even though the second half might disappoint when compared to the first, it is never anything less than entertaining.