Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

US (2012) Dir. Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath & Conrad Vernon

Four years after the fugitive animals from a New York Zoo – Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria – wave goodbye to the penguins as they leave Africa, they decide to return to home to New York which means hunting the penguins down first to fly them there. The penguins are located in Monte Carlo where, along with the chimpanzees, they are pulling a scam in a casino. Unfortunately Alex’s appearance grabs the attention of Monaco Animal Control officer Captain Chantel DuBois, who is looking for one animal head to complete her collection – a lion. In a bid to escape from DuBois, Alex and the gang are forced to lie to a group of circus animals to get aboard their train but now have to prove their mettle under the big top.

Sequels. Love them or loathe them they are a major part of modern day movie business once a particular idea seems to strike gold, especially animated films as family audiences usually means bigger box office. The Madagascar franchise from Dreamworks was one of the also-rans competing against the Pixar juggernaut when it debuted in 2005 but it became a big hit, spawning a sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa in 2008, thanks in part to its cast of likeably whacky characters voiced by some top name talent such as Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sacha Baron Cohen. While Pixar are, and no doubt will always be considered the leaders of CGI animation, Dreamworks have come on leaps and bounds with their animation – and dare I say it, are better when it comes to human features! Therefore if this third instalment offers anything to the viewer it is some utterly gorgeous visuals and smooth animation.

The first part of the film features the usual madcap and highly inventive antics of our animal protagonists as the native New Yorkers hunt down the mischievous penguins in the glamorous locale of Monte Carlo only to be chased through the picturesque streets of Monaco by DuBois – who looks like Helena Bonham-Carter (but voiced by Frances McDormand) and her bunch of incompetents. It’s classic slapstick mayhem that races along at a breakneck speed and will amuse the kids with its insanity as much as it is will please the adults for its reverential throwback to the halcyon days of Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes cartoons!

In order to escape the group see a train about to depart but the troupe of European circus animals refuse to let “non-circus” animals on board, so Alex tells a little porkie about their performing credentials to change their minds. It turns out the penguins bought the deeds from the circus owner giving its control over to Alex and co. which still fails to endear them to the troupe, which includes surly Russian tiger Vitaly, sensuous jaguar Gia and slow witted seal lion Stefano. After watching the circus in action, it is clear why the previous owner was so glad to hand it over but the gang decides to modernise the circus while touring their way across Europe and back home to Europe. But DuBois is still on their trail.

There is a certain irony that will be lost on the younger audience concerning the idea of a group of animals running a circus, in lieu of the bad rep some have for their treatment of animals and the exploitation of them for our amusement. If the writers wanted to make a statement on this they would have had Alex and friends trying to free the circus animals from a life of being performing slaves (although there is no signs or suggestion of mistreatment at all), rather than being slave masters themselves. Of course, being in a zoo is no better than a circus as Gia is quick to point out, since they are free to travel the world rather than be stuck in a caged compound. It all depends on how seriously one wants to take this issue but this is a family film so the script needs to be kept as simple as possible.

Elsewhere, another more palatable irony is the portrayal of the formidable DuBois, who is just as much an animal as thought she hunts down. Quite often he is shown scampering around on all fours, sniffing the ground for lion scent, scuttling about like a spider or slithering like a snake. DuBois and her trio of hopeless helpers provide much of the comic entertainment of the film in true Keystone Cops/pantomime villain tradition through their tenacity as much as their incompetence. Elsewhere King Julien falls for a giant bear Sonya in a very amusing mismatched romance while the penguins, are sadly relegated to infrequent appearance presumably to stop them from stealing the show as they usually do.

As mentioned earlier, the animation and production values are superb, showing off the benefit of an increased budget for what is a 3D project. Even in 2D (and especially on Blu-ray) this a visual treat, possessing some truly spectacular set pieces and action scenes all rendered in gloriously vibrant colours and immersive depth of perception for that added sense of excitement. Pixar may be the leaders of the pack but they certainly don’t have the monopoly on CGI animation as this film more than adequately proves.

If you enjoyed the first two Madagascar films then you know what to expect from this third outing. It may be predictable story wise but it is heavy on pure escapist fun and action which is all one really wants from a family film like this. Simply put, sit back and enjoy the ride!