It seems difficult these days to create an animated feature that isn’t satisfying. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted continues the tradition of presenting something fun, full of loveable characters and set in a universe that will engage the senses. What it’s missing, however, is an overarching, cathartic story that audiences can really hang onto. Yet, that shouldn’t stop families from enjoying this wonderful film.
The gang from the New York Zoo, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), are still trying to get home after their adventures in Africa. Fearing the Penguins have abandoned them for the high life in Monte Carlo, the group infiltrates the casino the Penguins are gambling at to give them a piece of their mind. Unfortunately, the plan goes awry and animal control is alerted, attracting the attention of vicious animal catcher Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). In order to elude authorities, the animal gang stows away on a train as part of a circus, joining other animals, like Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), Gia the leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short). The circus is failing, however, and in order for anyone to get to America, Alex and company will have to spruce up the acts and impress a wealthy American investor.
Madagascar 3 is a fantastic experience – especially in 3-D. While most 3-D films don’t do much to showcase the technology, there’s enough exploding out of the screen and into the theater that viewers will end up reflexively ducking in spite of themselves. There are also a few amazing set pieces, like when the circus is in full swing and animals are zipping across the screen in beautiful neon while Katy Perry provides the music. Finally, all of the characters are just cartoony enough to rebound from injuries like rubber bands that children and adults will be laughing heartily out loud.
By and large, all of the voicework is performed admirably. Special kudos to the voice talent for the circus animals since they are all but unrecognizable as they affect European accents. All of the voice actors sound committed and really convey their emotions through their voices, even without the aid of their onscreen avatars.
The only real criticism for the film is that the story is on the weak side. All of the characters were given something to do – Alex learns trapeze, Melman learns to dance, Marty gets shot out of a cannon and so forth – but these plots seem largely unnecessary to saving the circus and exist more as busy work. Furthermore, the main crisis surrounding the circus seems like it could have been circumvented from the beginning, considering that the Penguins already have a way to interact with humans and enough cash to get the animals shipped wherever they need to go. In the end, it isn’t that big of a deal and won’t detract much from the entertainment value of the film, but don’t expect any wonderful setups for deep, emotional impacts found in other animated features.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is fun for everyone. Being all-inclusive, however, necessarily means very little risk-taking and a simple story. Audiences – especially whole families – can’t go wrong with this film, but there’s also a limit to how much enjoyment there is to be had.