Madagascar 3 Europes Most Wanted 3D Review
The ending is as triumphant and funny as you could want.
It is not often that an animated sequel comes along that is equal or better to its predecessors, but Madagascar 3 might just claim that accolade. Extremely funny throughout, with a good story and some significant character depth, this really is a very good family film.
The franchise goes back to 2005 and now includes three movies, three shorts, a spin off TV series, a collection of console games, three soundtrack albums and a brace of touring live shows. Not bad for a story about a motley collection of zoo animals just trying to get back to their home in New York Central Park Zoo. The movies alone have reportedly taken close to $2 Billion in box office receipts, and that’s without all the spin offs and merchandising that accompanies any family movie these days. To put this into context, the other Dreamworks major success story Shrek has taken over $3.5 Billion, but that is from five movies - if you include the Puss in Boots spin off and over a longer period. At around $145 Million, Madagascar 3 was a little cheaper than the last of the Shrek movies to make, but still manages to look and sound so much better, let alone having a significantly better storyline.
The Madagascar series has always followed a chronological story, with each subsequent movie almost taking up where the last finished. This contrasts to Shrek, where the stories do not necessarily relate directly to each other and all we get are various set ups to exploit the grumpiness of the main character. This serialising could be seen as a limitation to the storyline, but the writers have done a very fine job of re-inventing new scenarios to keep things fresh, as well as bringing in a few new characters alongside the existing cast.
So, for this outing, we start with the gang feeling homesick for the zoo, despite being in their native Africa. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) feels they are never going to get home as the penguins and chimps cleared off to the casinos of Monte-Carlo in their home made aircraft and until they return, he sees no method of getting home to the good ole’ US of A. Along with sidekicks Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippopotamus, (Jada Pinkett Smith) he decidea to go to Monte-Carlo, re-group the chimps and penguins and head for home. Of course, things do not go that smoothly. The carefully planned incursion into animal-free world of the casino is thrown into chaos as the animals argue about who is boss and King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) decides to hold an impromptu disco with the lights! A good job the penguins had an escape route planned, as the authorities have called crack animal control officer Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). She is the villainess of the movie, cold calculating and motivated by the dream of snaring a lion and adding it to the stuffed heads collection on her office wall. She pursues them on a breakneck pursuit through the principality ending with their narrow escape in their now mortally wounded heli-plane.
This opening section of the film really sets the pace for the rest of the movie. From the gentler action on the African plains to the frenetic chase through the streets of Monaco, it is all brilliantly balanced, with plenty of slapstick humour and clever dialogue. The mark of a good family movie is when the comedy works at multiple levels without leaving anyone out or feeling uncomfortable and this film hits the spot. Where many American portrayals of Europe fall down is to fail to make the cultural differences between the different countries. Even in a cartoon like this, we need to know that the French and Italians have a slightly different work ethic to the Yanks and also the love of animals is seen more in their consumption than companionship. This is well communicated and even if maybve the animals need slightly stronger New York accents, the humans all fit in a treat. Captain DuBois is one evil, driven woman, and one for whom the failure to catch the fugitives simply spurs her to try harder. There are a few bits of dialogue that don’t make a lot of sense. One is a reference to a chain of convenience stores that really only has a presence within New York and this left me having to Google the name to find out what on earth they were on about! A few of the sub-plots could also be seen as nothing more than a distraction at times, but on the whole it hangs together pretty well.
As the Penguin’s aircraft starts to disintegrate, it crashes into a railway yard. There is no time for the animals to re-group or think about their next move, as DuBois is soon closing in on them. The chimps make a run for it, while the rest of the gang stumble across a circus train about to depart and negotiate their way on board. DuBois is not shaken off so easily and tracks them across borders as the train rumbles towards the next show in Rome. Alex and friends have to persuade the circus animals to let them remain on the train by telling them they are also circus performers. It all looks a bit sticky for a while, but then the Penguins and chimps purchase the circus from its human owners – who clear off with indecent haste, uncertain friendships start to develop. Of course, they are no nearer to home, but when Alex discovers that the circus will be heading to London after Rome and will be performing in front of a big time American promoter, he sees a way home.
A shame then, that the show in Rome is a disaster, with the circus animals putting on a very poor performance of safe, boring routines that leave them being chased from the town. Alex is not one to be beaten, and he appeals to the animals to look into their hearts and re-discover that spark of creativity that had once made them the greatest show on earth. The trouble is, leader of the troupe Vitaly the lion has lost his mojo. His ring leaping act where where flew through smaller and smaller hoops had gone disastrously wrong when the olive oil he used for lubrication caught fire, leaving him burned and afraid to continue. Stefano the sea lion and Gia the Jaguar seek to re-kindle his enthusiasm and also hone their skills, along with the rest of the troupe. A training stop in an alpine meadow provides them all with the time to reflect on their lives, but this comes to an end as DuBois is still on their case, having escaped arrest in Rome from the incompetent Italian police and motivated her own beaten and broken squad with a very funny rendition of Non, je ne regrette rien.
The flash backs and occasional flicks to other storylines within this film – like Julien’s relationship with Sonya the cycling bear help to break things up and keep up the interest in what can otherwise be a hiatus in the movie. The incompetent Italian Police and the devious escape by DuBois also helps to keep the little one’s interest, but some of the Franco-Italian bashing does border on the racist. It is all done tongue in cheek and I don’t think anyone will mind too much however.
The action moves to London and success seems assured. The circus is transformed and the crowd expectant, but Vitaly does not want to perform and it is only the heartfelt pleas of his friends that change his mind. He turns out to be the star of the show and the promoter signs them up on the spot. There is a quick dig at the “Cirque du Soliel” type of human only circus at this point and after quick flick to America and the gang is on home soil. Of course, this is not quite the end, as DuBois is still on the case and there is the small matter that they might have told a few fibs about their circus credentials to the troupe…
The ending is as triumphant and funny as you could want. It closes the door pretty firmly to a sequel, but in Hollywood, you never can tell. Suffice to say the finish is typically “Happily ever after” as all the best animations should be.
There really is so much packed into ninety minutes. The narrative is spot on, the mix of songs fits so well and that’s before we get onto the animation and general production values. There really is so much to recommend this movie for if you want a good rainy Sunday family movie. Unlike some releases, the humour is all clean, it avoids preaching or being so scary that the little ones disappear behind the sofa at any point. Putting up against the late 2012 releases of Brave, Ice Age4 and The Lorax, this one comes in at a solid number one. There is talk of a fourth instalment, but hopefully the producers will learn from the Shrek ratings slide and develop a spin off instead of direct sequel. The door has not really been left open for another serialisation, so this alone should suggest that the series is done and it is time to finish on a high.
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