It turns out I’m a real sucker for any movie with Monkeys, Penguins, Lemurs and miniature circus Dogs. So you don’t need to read the rest of this review to figure out I’m giving “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” 9 out of 10 (damn that was premature!). But there’s plenty more to this film than meets the eye. I’ve seen this twice – the first time being dragged in by my 16 year old. Second time dragging my 19 year old in. Because I wanted the see the Lemurs again. And because I’d fallen in love with the villain.
This is the 3rd instalment in the Madagascar series and critically and commercially the best. It deserves to be. I saw it both times in 3D – this enhanced the experience but its neither a make or break situation. The usual characters voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sacha Baron-Cohen have been augmented by new ones voiced by Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, Martin Short and Frances McDormand.
The 3rd film finds our four heros Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) still stranded in Africa. Despite outward appearances these guys are first world cats first and foremost. Being in Africa does not sit well with them. Depression and nightmares set in. To make matters worse it appears that the Monkeys and Penguins have flown to Monte Carlo – deserting and betraying them.
Breaking out of their torpor, they decide to chance their fate by traveling to Monte Carlo, chastise their betrayers (but make up with them of course) and then strike out from Monte Carlo to New York and home together. Our heros are followed by the irrepressible, irresistible Julien, King of the Lemurs – and his courtiers and lieutenants.
Once at Monte Carlo we find the Penguins and Monkeys living it large at the centre of all manner of hijinks and scams in the Casino. Living it large is not on Alex’s agenda, and the four homesick killjoys put the kibosh on all the fun necessitating a daring, dramatic and destructive exit from the casino, in an advanced military style SUV the Penguins just happened to have handy.
This behaviour brings them to the attention of Captain Chantel Dubois, head of Animal Control in Monte Carlo. Part Policewoman, part psychopath, part terminator and all goddess (IMHO). Dubois leads her crack team in pursuit of the menagerie leading to one close call after another. Dubois is single minded in her pursuit of Alex in particular. She has the stuffed and mounted heads of all animals in her office. Just one is missing. A lion.
Narrowly escaping Dubois and her team (for the moment) they fly towards Italy and another close shave, being rescued just in time by circus animals Gia the Jaguar (Jessica Chastain), Vitaly the Tiger (Bryan Cranston) and Stefano the Sea Lion (Martin Short). Their rescue comes virtue of some quick thinking and fast lying by Alex to convince the circus animals that they too are ‘circus’. Alex describes his ‘trapeze act’ as something that somehow involves a jet pack and water cobras. The enraptured Stefano dubs this Circus, Americano style!
Whilst the circus animals appear proud, defiant and aggressive they are harbouring doubt, failures and hurt. They are in fact in a downward spiral following Vitaly’s failure to reach his former glory. To maintain the pretense of being circus animals Alex and Co start training with the real circus animals somehow developing a weird hybrid of acts and injecting faith and energy back into the old circus. If they can impress at shows in Rome and London a big promoter will tour them to New York. This is just the break Alex needed to get back to the Big Apple and their comfortable Zoo. They just have to keep pretending to be ‘circus’.
Dubois has followed their every footsteps and almost captures them in Rome. Dubois’ team is not as indestructable as she is and they all wind up in hospital neck to knee is plaster. Returning to Monte Carlo she rouses her team from their hospital beds and out of their plaster to try and capture Alex for once and for all at the New York Zoo. A surreal showdown occurs as Zoo and Circus merges with lies and hope and truth.
The creators have ensured that enough new life and interest has been injected via new characters and situations whilst keeping the best of what worked previously in the Madagascar movies. This means more Lemurs, more Penguins and more Monkeys and less introspection from the four leads. A massive bear wearing a pink tutu as the love interest for King Julien is as inspired as it is wrong.
However the villain Dubois steals the movie.
I turned momentarily into a cartoon French person during the scene where Dubois sang the Edith Piaf French Foreign Legion song “Non, je ne regrette rien” to inspire and rouse her shattered team. Just. Magical. Dubois is so single minded, rich, dark and disturbed and Alex is just such a friggin’ Hamlet that you almost wish Dubois would get the better of him. She deserves to be sated.
Madagascar 3 hurtles at a frenetic pace unfolding a rich tapestry of visual and verbal delights supported by engaging characterisations. It is impossible not not to love it.
Unless you are dead or not very French.
9 out of 10 and thank-you for reading to the end.