Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Fri, Oct 19, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath. Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, Martin Short, Paz Vega, Frances McDormand G cert, general release, 93 min

AND THEY SHALL know us by the quality of Seth Macfarlane joke we inspire.

The repartee of pop culture is seldom kind to DreamWorks Animation or to the Madagascar sequence. Somewhere between Shrek movies the imprint settled into a groove of gratuitous snark and celebrity cameos, an easily parodied formula for the cartoon satirist or professional wag. The Madagascar movies are repeat offenders when it comes to ripe “I get jokes!” material.

There was something unsettlingly complacent about the way the 2008 sequel fell back on a lemur dancing to I Like To Move It, Move It. And there’s something even more unsettling about the encore performance in Madagascar 3. With crushing inevitability the new film sees the same animated beast (Sacha Baron Cohen’s King Julien) shake his predictable booty to such highly fashionable hits as the Spice Girls’ Wannabe.

Sigh. We are, at least, spared Sir Mix-a-lot.

The halfwit karaoke is an anomaly. Unlike its predecessors, and with a curtsey before Herbie and Inspector Clouseau, the third part of the billion-dollar franchise traces a frantic chase across Europe. It’s a good move for the neurotic New York zoo animals. Freed from the narrative constraints of being shipwrecked and/or captive, the quartet tear through the old continent with Frances McDormand’s demented French captain on their respective tails.

Alex the Lion’s pining for Manhattan is confined to a brief prologue as he and his team – Gloria the Hippo, Melman the Giraffe, and Marty the Zebra – take refuge with a traveling circus. Carnival newcomers Vitaly the Russian Tiger (Bryan Cranston) and Gia the Jaguar (Jessica Chastain) make for welcome additions to the classic line-up, and the penguins are rightly accorded higher billing.

The results are faster, sprightlier and more Animal Farm than the earlier films and TV spin-offs. The animation is fluid and endearingly cartoonish. Melman has never looked lankier and the Dayglo homage to Dumbo’s pink elephants is a triumph, especially in 3D.

We’re still not buying that elephant-hippo marriage, mind.

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