Madagascar is one of those strange movie franchises with such a simple premise your first instinct is to write it off. Any film that involves a lion (Ben Stiller), a zebra (Chris Rock), a hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and a giraffe (David Schwimmer) crossing the world to get back to their NYC zoo should be stupid, right? Oddly, each film has been surprisingly well done and sports a smart script.
Not wasting any time, the movie kicks into high gear by landing the animals in Monte Carlo chasing after the penguins. Even if this is your first time watching the characters, it will be instantly clear what is happening and why you should care. Thankfully, all of the animals are so detailed at this point and have such distinct personalities that you truly do find yourself rooting for them in every situation.
The humans aren’t nearly so lucky. After being spotted inside a casino in Monte Carlo, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) from animal control is called in to handle the situation. Dubois is by far one of the strangest animated villains ever put on film. Picture a mix of Cruella De Vil and The Terminator, she is pure determination and force.
The filmmakers have given her such amazing tracking abilities that by the end of the film (a movie that is 90 percent talking animals), it is Dubois that is the most unbelievable character of them all. Had they toned her down just a little bit it may have helped the final product of the movie.
As the only human of any interest in the film, she is surrounded by one-dimensional characters that are essentially just fodder for slapstick comedy. While it’s clear the film needed a villain, once the main plot kicks in she is essentially unnecessary.
The root of the story involves the animals running away with a European circus and, thanks to the wealthy penguins, taking it over. Introducing a brand new cast of characters, each with their own backstory, really does bring new life into the plot.
There is the lovable Italian sea lion Stefano (voiced by Martin Short, who seems to be doing a European Roger Rabbit impression), the tough as nails Russian tiger (voiced by the always powerful Bryan Cranston) and the beautiful cheetah Carmen (voiced by the amazing Paz Vega). Without giving away too much, the main characters get deeply involved in the lives of the circus animals and they each learn valuable lessons from each other.
Madagascar 3 truly shines in both its writing and visual effects. There are so many references throughout the film that only adults will understand it is astounding. While the average youngster will no doubt appreciate the animation and story there are certain lines that will undoubtedly go over the heads of anyone under 20 years old. That kind of tongue-in-cheek humor is what makes what could have been just another throwaway film of the summer really stand out from the competition.
There are moments of pure craziness too that need to be seen to be believed. Take, for example, a strange scene that involves a grizzly bear in a tutu, the Pope and a Ducati. It is as if the writers wanted to see just how strange they could make the movie and ran with it.
The effects are amazingly well crafted as well. This is one movie that will take the audience to a whole different level if viewed in 3D. The fact that this is the franchise’s third film and it already has a built in fanbase allows it much more freedom to operate. By this time everyone involved with the film is an expert at their craft and can now really push the limits. The final half hour is amazingly surreal in 3D and so crazy it’s worth watching twice.
When the preview for Madagascar 3 first came out, it seemed like an unnecessary exercise in filmmaking and an excuse by the studio to get the last remaining profit out of an established franchise. Thankfully, the movie is not only extremely well done but also smart and entertaining. If you’re looking for happy escapism this summer, look no further than Madagascar.
The film opens nationwide June 8th. Watch the trailer here.