With the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen. Written by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach. Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon. Rated PG (for some mild action and rude humor). 93 minutes.
DreamWorks Animation plays number two to Pixar in terms of American animation, and Pixar’s “Brave” seems to be one of the most anticipated films of the summer. Yet DreamWorks Animation is head-and-shoulders among the rest of the competition, even if they allowed their “Shrek” franchise to burn itself out. That is not the case with the “Madagascar” films, which have been underrated and yet consistently work both as character-driven stories and as zany comedies. MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE’S MOST WANTED is a lot of fun, and a whole lot better than Pixar’s last offering, the abysmal “Cars 2.”
For those coming in late, the series is about four animals from the Central Park Zoo who escape and find themselves in Madagascar. Alex the lion (voice of Ben Stiller) is the leader of the gang, which includes Marty the feisty zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the neurotic giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the lovable hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). Along with assorted monkeys, penguins, and King Julien XIII (Sacha Baron Cohen) – the high-stepping king of the lemurs – they are still trying to find their way back the U.S.
When our heroes discover that the shifty penguins have taken off to Monte Carlo without them, they decide to get there on their own as part of a plan to work their way back to New York. It is in Monte Carlo that they meet their new nemesis, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), who is in charge of animal control and seems to be part animal herself. After a riotous chase that – in the best cartoon tradition – repeals the laws of physics, Alex and company find themselves buying a broken-down circus as a cover. The plan is that the circus, along with its new attractions, will lead to an American promoter bringing them to the States.
You can try to guess where the story goes from here, but the plot is the least of it. It’s really about the characters and the gags, from Alex’s explanation of an American trapeze act (it includes jet packs) to King Julien stealing off with his new lady love – a bear – to visit the Vatican. There are also several new characters, besides the hilariously obsessive Captain DuBois, such as the embittered tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) who gets to deliver the film’s most unexpected (and perfectly clean) expletive.
In short, “Madagascar 3” has plenty of slapstick and adventure for the kids, as well as a lot of wit and charm for the adults. As the gags play out to their climactic showdown, this seems a fitting end to the series. It’s not “Toy Story 3,” but it is suitable conclusion to the story and one that should leave everyone but the most cynical viewers with big smiles.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.