Monday, June 18, 2012

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted / **½ (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Alex: Ben Stiller
Marty: Chris Rock
Melman: David Schwimmer
Gloria: Jada Pinkett Smith
Julian: Sacha Baron Cohen
Maurice: Cedric the Entertainer
Mort: Andy Richter
Skipper: Tom McGrath
Kowalski: Chris Miller
Captain Chantel DuBois: Frances McDormand
Gia: Jessica Chastain
Vitaly: Bryan Cranston
Stefano: Martin Short

DreamWorks Animation presents a film directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, and Conrad Vernon. Written by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach. Running time: 93 min. Rated PG (for some mild action and rude humor).

There are some movies you really can’t imagine continuing on after it’s initial installment. “Madagascar” was never in the upper echelons of great American CGI cartoons, but it was an enjoyable romp back in 2005. It had enjoyable characters, if a not so intriguing premise about four animals from the Central Park Zoo who somehow find themselves shipwrecked on the island nation of Madagascar half the world away from the home they loved.

Because of the rascally supporting characters of the penguins, it was no surprise to find this movie achieving a larger than expected popularity and a television series starring the penguins. However, I never though we would experience not only a second, but also a third feature-length movie in the franchise seven years later. Yet, here we are with “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”. The four animals are still trying to get back to their zoo in New York. They’ve finally learned not to trust those penguins and take it upon themselves to get to Europe and find another way home.

Wait. They escaped Madagascar in a plane that crashed in Africa, but how in the world did they get to Europe from there. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the filmmakers decide it’s not important to concern the audience with just how that was possible. It does seem as if they’ve landed in Monte Carlo with fairly little effort, however, so why didn’t they just go straight to America? I suppose that’s most easily explained by the fact that then they wouldn’t have an excuse for another adventure.

All the primary vocal talent returns from the first two movies. Instead of listing them, you’ll just have to look up the cast list for your reminders of who is who. This time the gang finds itself on the radar of a French Animal Control officer, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”). She relentlessly chases them. Why? So they can have something that they’re running from, some threat that will make it harder to achieve their goal to return to the States. They hide out with a circus troop led by the imposing Vitaly (Bryan Cranston, “Malcolm in the Middle”), a Russian Tiger who has lost his nerve to perform his particular act. Because of Vitaly’s loss of confidence, the entire circus troop has lost its bearings. Posing as an American circus act, Alex the Lion and company take it upon themselves to reinvigorate this circus so they can impress a circus promoter from America and get a ticket home.

There is a sort of heedless abandon to the logic of the movie that I kind of admired. There seems to be this mentality in CG created cartoons that suggests the filmmakers have forgotten that they’re making a cartoon. The whole reason for a cartoon is to present characters doing things that are totally impossible. There’s no fear of the impossible here. The animals end up creating a Cirque du Soleil style show. It’s visually stunning, embracing a style suggestive of Disney’s “Fantasia” segments. I’m attributing this freedom to the involvement of co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach, better known for his more adult oriented screenplays, like “The Squid and the Whale” and “Greenberg”, but also partially responsible for the charmingly classic feeling kids flick “Fantastic Mr. Fox”.

The disjointed story elements, such as the on again off again pursuit by DuBois and the unexplained abilities of these animals to move freely from one continent to another, yet not to the one they want to get to, I blame fully on the three man directing team of Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, and Conrad Vernon, all of whom have been involved in the franchise since its inception. Perhaps they’ve become too comfortable with their characters and no longer have plot context in their cinematic vocabulary.

“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” will no doubt please younger viewers who want to see Alex, Marty, Melman, Gloria, King Julian, and the penguins on yet another adventure. Some of the cartoon freedoms discovered by the writers will please older fans of classic Looney Tunes cartoons. But ultimately, the third installment’s aspirations amount to little more than another episode in a cartoon aimed at only one level of entertainment—silliness. 

No comments: