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Movie Review: Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Films opening this weekend:
Bernie - Amherst, Eastern Hills Dipsons
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade, Flix Dipsons; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Transit Drive-In
Prometheus - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade, Flix Dipsons; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Transit Drive-In

A round of applause for directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath—they have kind of accomplished the impossible with Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. (Conrad Vernon joins them, and Darnell scripted with Noah Baumbach.) I was surprised at how much better Escape 2 Africa was in comparison to the original Madagascar, but never expected my level of enjoyment to rise even more with the third. Where I could have cared less what happened to Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer), and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) in 2005, I'm a little sad to realize this could be the end of their adventures.

Still not Pixar caliber in quality of story, emotional attachment, or cinematic expertise, the series has taken great strides to expand beyond a steady stream of jokes. Always very funny, these rather crudely angular animals have seen their animation become polished and their chaotic environments more lush. Monte Carlo, France, Rome, and London are portrayed in the streets, on trains, and in casinos. It's an assault on the senses that is even more overpowering when the "Afro Circus" comes to town. The black light turns on, the neon glow of hoops and spiral ramps radiates through the darkness, Katy Perry's "Fireworks" begins to play, and we've graduated to full-fledged spectacle.

Beginning where the previous installment left off, Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private take off in their monkey-powered plane with gold, diamonds, and the declaration they'll never be coming back. Knowing those tuxedo-wearing birds pretty well after two movies, Alex wasn't going to take the chance they were joking. So, apparently finished with Africa, this lion, zebra, giraffe, and hippo unearth goggles and snorkles to use for a leisurely swim to Monaco. We watch the quartet, Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), and Mort (Andy Richter) hatch an Ocean's 11-type heist, but after abject failure, they're on the lam.

The nefarious French animal control Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand) chases them like a Basset Hound to mount Alex's head on her wall while the gang stows away on a train owned by the Circo Zargoza. Using the rest of the penguins' funds, Mason and Phil buy the circus and a new plan is drawn up to play Europe and catch the eye of a talent scout from America. Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain), and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short) will get their wish of performing across the Atlantic and our transplants will finally return home.

The big plus from all this is how we actually receive a villain this time around. McDormand appears to be having a good time and her T-1000-esque indestructibility is a blast. Cranston's Vitaly has some anger issues, but it's Stefano's manic desire to please and Marty's crazed need to get involved by painting himself in polka dots to diffuse the tension that I liked most.

Light-hearted throughout despite the foe on their tail, everything builds to the debut of their "Fur Power" circus—proving animals can Cirque du Soleil just as well as humans in a visually disorienting 3D assault I loved. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd become a champion of the Madagascar crew, but they've slowly and steadily worn me down. And although the addition of new characters means a limited role for some favorites, none overstep their welcome nor make us wish for more. The penguins, however … I still can't get enough.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] (Left to right) Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) join the circus in DreamWorks Animation's MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED, to be released by Paramount Pictures. Photo credit: Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation
[2] (Left to right) Vitaly the Tiger (Brian Cranston), Gia the Jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Sea Lion (Martin Short) help the zoosters make a clean getaway in DreamWorks Animation's MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED to be released by Paramount Pictures.

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