“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is energetic if not extremely predictable family fun. Featuring a cast of returning favorites and a slew of new characters, the film boasts mischievous wit and gifted voice talent that are sadly overshadowed by the film’s own banality.
The movie begins with fast-paced, wild absurdity that transports audiences from the African savannah to the elite shores of Monaco. Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) continue their struggle to get back home to the New York Central Zoo after the first “Madagascar” left them helplessly and amusingly stranded. After boarding a circus train, the group finds a brand new outlook on life along with a whole new meaning of the word “home.”
The eye-popping animation brims with vibrant color and frequently utilizes the 3D technology to its advantage, whether it is a frenzied car chase, a flashy circus act, or something as paltry as fireworks. The postcard depictions of Rome and London are nothing to write home about, but provide the perfect backdrop for lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his comical love interest.
"Madagascar 3" offers plenty of good-natured laughs for the little guys but does not exclude parents from the equation either. Cultural references may well go over the kids’ heads while adults can find humor in playful jabs at Times Square’s lack of corporate culture, community college, and how “Canadians are drunk on maple syrup and cheap pharmaceuticals.”
The film is also aided by the slew of fresh faces to the voice cast, such as Jessica Chastain (“The Help”) and Bryan Cranston (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”). Frances McDormand (of “Fargo” fame) is dynamite as the ridiculous yet often hysterical Captain Chantel DuBois, a French animal control officer who chases the animals across Europe in hopes of getting Alex’s head for a mount in her office. While this may sound a little absurd for a kid’s film, it certainly is by all means. But hey, who can resist DuBois’ rendition of Edith Piaf’s popular “Non, je ne regrette rien?” Plot shortcomings can oftentimes scrape by if the comedy proves strong enough.
That being said, as the circus train pushes onward to London, “Madagascar 3” begins losing steam. The film starts falling into the usual cookie cutter mold of storytelling—characters lose hope, characters get inspired, characters have their trust betrayed, you get the picture. Before long, you get the feeling you can predict every single line and plot point well before it even happens.
This basic blueprint is to be expected in most children’s movies, but for a franchise that has always been a little more offbeat than most animated features (save for anything in the Pixar catalog), one would hope the writers would have tried to craft something a little more original.
“Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted” shows the franchise’s age with its familiar shtick and inability to try something innovative, but its methodological formula makes for an enjoyable way to get the kids out of the heat and into the multiplex.