Seven years ago, DreamWorks Animation debuted a new family of animals to "cute" their way into the hearts of animated movie fans. The story of Madagascar followed four animals from the New York City Zoo who, while being transported to a new location, are lost on the island of Madagascar. Along with this group--made up of a lion, a hippo, a zebra, and a giraffe--are four eccentric penguins and a pair of monkeys. In the film's first sequel, Escape 2 Africa, more ancestry is explored for characters like Alex the lion, but the film lacked on many different levels. Now the studio has released the third installment into the successful franchise, a silly, hyperactive adventure that unleashes our animals on Europe: Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is the first chapter in the Madagascar series to be presented in 3D. As such, all kinds of gratuitous 3D shots and angles and gimmicks are noticeable whether you're watching it in 2D or 3D. Also, this film runs at a swift, almost exhausting pace. The jokes come at you rapid-fire and the action is almost just as nonstop, therefore giving this Madagascar a much different feel than the previous two movies. In all fairness, due to my disappointment in the 2008 movie Escape 2 Africa, I haven't seen that movie since the one time I saw it in the theater, but I have seen the first film several times over the years. The world that these zoo animals inhabit was always portrayed as a cartoony, skewed world, but Europe's Most Wanted takes things to the next level. In the first movie, humans saw the animals as real animals while viewers saw them a cartoons that speak english, and if they tried to communicate with the people, all they would hear are regular animal noises. By this third movie, it seems as though there's a heightened reality (well, even more so) where the humans might actually understand the animals (it's suggested at times, but never blatantly so). Also, the humans are wackier than ever. Captain Chantel DuBois, voiced by Frances McDormand, is the head of animal control in Paris who has a run-in with the main foursome and seeks to destroy them at any cost. She's more over-the-top than any character in any of the three movies (and perhaps any other DreamWorks film?) as she's borderline a super villain. In one scene, we see her crawling on all fours tracking their trail, lapping water from a puddle and envisioning the path they travelled and seeing their path visually as a mist. In another scene, she is chasing after the animals while running through an office building, bursting through walls and even through a fully-stocked refrigerator as she pursues them. She's about as pyschotic a villain you can see in a PG-rated animated movie and she may be a tough pill to swallow with the film's first viewing.
And that in itself may be Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted's biggest problem. There's so much happening on the screen at any given moment, that even if you're paying complete attention to the film, you're still liable to miss stuff. A few moments do slow things down just enough to let the audience catch their breath a bit, but it isn't long before things are zipping along very quickly. While the story may not be as well executed as the first film, the humor is amped up and the silliness is at an all-time high. But it's a movie I can see getting better with each repeat viewing. Where Escape 2 Africa seemed to lack in some areas, and overuse characters that are meant to be used sparingly, Europe's Most Wanted feels like it plays most of its cards right. Julien's pals Mort and Maurice still feel out of place here, but they're used very minimally. Julien also ends up falling in love with a seemingly mindless, ugly female bear that appears to be the only "real," non-cartoony animal in the movie. It's pretty funny, albeit extremely bizarre, but it's that kind of strange humor that makes Madgascar 3 an enjoyably upredictable outing. When the "zoosters" (as the production folk call the main group of animals) join a circus to evade DuBois, we meet a new team of characters that end up being the best "new" characters introduced into the mix since King Julien in the first movie. The best of which is a dimwitted Italian sea lion named Stefano who is brilliantly voiced by comedian Martin Short. I loved Short's work in the 80s and it's exciting to see some of his work again, even if it's just animated. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston is unrecognizable as a gruff-talking tiger named Vitaly, and Jessica Chastain wears a Latin accent to voice a love interest for Alex named Gia. The penguins also make a reappearance in the film, providing some of the best laughs as usual, and are used sparingly enough that I felt like there could have been even more done with them.
Plot-wise, Madagascar 3 is also a little all over the place. The crew bounces around Europe with little explanation as how they get from A to B (they do give adequate explanation, but you can't think about it too much from a realistic sense...especially since they can now drive cars and trains), and we see them in Paris, Rome and Monte Carlo before returning to the States. As a story, Madagascar 3 works excellently for ending the series as a trilogy. There's a distinct finish to the story by the film's end, despite there still being room for them to continue the story to a fourth film if they wished. However, I feel like it ends well enough with this movie that they should probably not overdo it by forcing a fourth chapter. I do like how the sequels have given the story a somewhat natural continuation in the animals' quest to return to the New York City Zoo. The first film closed with such an open-ended feeling that it has only seemed right to continue the story as they try to get back. Some have called Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted the best of the series and I think only time will tell if that is true or not. Story-wise, that is probably not the case, but there's so much fun packed into the running time of Madagascar 3, that it seems like a more likely choice for repeat viewings than the first two films.
The content for this series of movies has always been a bit edgier, just like the studio's Shrek counterparts. While there are no blatant profane words used this time around, the "Sugar Honey Iced Tea" exclamation by Marty in the first film (If you don't get it, assemble the first letter of each of those words into its own word. Yeah, sorry.) is matched this time by Marty exclaiming "I was flying! I was effin'-L-Y-in'!" (and that spelling is via the film's subtitle track). It's surprising and really not all that funny, so I'm not quite sure who's brilliant idea it was to put that in a kids movie. The other questionable word is more minor, when Marty refers to his driving like Mario Andretti and Alex says it's more like "Suckio Andretti." Other content includes some minor sensual references and a great deal of cartoon violence. Cartoons have had varying degrees of violence since the early 1900's, with even Disney cartoons being surprisingly violent, so it probably isn't too much of a shock to find loads of slapstick violence in Madagascar 3. Vitaly is a knife-thrower and he's often tossing sharp objects at other characters. Also, Captain DuBois is out to literally kill the animals, so she's seen with a hand saw ready to lop off Alex's head on a couple occasions, and she tries to shoot a poisonous dart at Alex in the film's climax. Everything else is mostly silly slapstick, but if your kids are especially impressionable and prone to imitation, this might not be the best movie for them to watch.
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is a crazy, silly, but fun adventure that ought to close the book on the Madagascar tales. It just might be the best of the series (or at least, the most entertaining), but only time will tell if that is true. However, it's safe to say that the visuals in it are the best of the series and the filmmakers have done a great job whipping up an entertaining story with truly engaging characters. Fans of the series should love it, while those who didn't enjoy the previous films should only check this out if they love wacky, hyper and nonsensical humor in the films they watch.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/12/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is the first of the series I've seen in high definition Blu-Ray, and it looks fantastic. DreamWorks' animation quality has come a long way and it's great to see these characters get an upgrade in detail. The colors and animation are just fantastic. The film itself is available in a Blu-Ray 3D combo pack, a regular Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo pack and a regular DVD (as well as the usual digital retailers). For those youngsters who couldn't get enough of the rainbow afro in the movie, the Blu-Ray combo pack comes with a free one in a separate vacuum-sealed box! Along with that extra are a series of extras on the Blu-Ray disc...
The Animators' Corner, Trivia Track and Feature Filmmakers' Commentary (with Directors Eric Darnell, Conrad Vernon and Tom McGrath) - These are full-length feature film extras that play during the movie. They're three different options to give viewers a unique look into the making of the movie. "The Animators' Corner" is a Blu-Ray exclusive that provides a picture-in-picture of various crew members talking about the film as well as storyboards and test footage being shown in the corner of the screen as the movie plays behind it.
Big Top Cast (13:38) - This is a fantastic featurette that focuses on the Madagascar films as a trilogy and their progression over three films, as well as the celebrities behind each character. After covering the main four, as well as the penguins and Julien, they focus on the new circus characters and the main villain DuBois (Sadly, Frances McDormand didn't contribute to the video interviews or even the in-studio filming of her voice).
Deleted Scenes (6:18) - There are three scenes with optional "Play All" and introductions by director Conrad Vernon. "Melman Picks A Circus Act (Test)" is part of a dramatic insecurity squabble between him and Gloria that was deleted from the movie. The completed voice talent is there, but the animation is mostly storyboard drawings and rough CG. "Next Performance: New York City (Test)" features Eric Darnell (Director/Co-Writer) introducing the scene as being unnecessary info, but it involves DuBois discovering that the animals were going to perform in NYC. For "Lion Meet Venom (Test)," director Tom McGrath, explains that this scene was unnecessary as it's just DuBois beating up and wrestling a snake for its venom and then she acts out killing Alex with a dart on a little stuffed lion.
"Get Them To The Train" (4:41) - This is a Blu-Ray remote-played game. Here, the train rolls up and stops with a specific car designated to a character. You then choose that character from a group of characters and it gives you the option to pick a destination for them to be propelled out of a cannon. It's pretty easy and simple, but a cute little game for the kids.
Mad Music Mash-Up (1:00) - This is a one-minute promo that shows everyone dancing to the "Afro Circus"/"Move It" song.
Ringmasters (15:27) - This is a making-of featurette that focuses on a day in the making of the movie. We meet the separate directors and see them hold meetings together virtually via webcam. Then we see some test animation being cut together, followed by a special effects demonstration of what it might really look like to shoot bananas out of a gun. Next, they show Tom McGrath record his dialog as "Skipper" for scratch dialog taping, and it all ends with Martin Short being brought in to record some dialog for his character of Stefano. It's a really neat way to show the different ingredients used to make the movie that most animated films don't show to the viewer.
Madagascar 3 Roundtable (3:48) - The four actors of the main cast talk about working on the project and how they'd recorded their voices for the first film three and a half years before it released. It's great to see the crew together and talking about the whole process of making the movie, how it feels to be in a third one, and what it's like recording lines they don't know the context of in the finished film. Sadly, it's not even four minutes long and I would have loved to have heard more from the foursome talking about this (I'm sure they did record more, so it's odd how short this is).
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/9/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: King Julien sings "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your fur. I am so hot, I want to take my fur off" (which is a play on a mainstream song that sings "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes"); In a prison cell, we briefly see a black and white pin-up poster of a busty woman sitting on pillows; Stefano tells Alex that Vitaly's wife ran off with a musician; Alex mentions a circus/show where people are nude.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "suck" (as in "Suckio"); Marty says "I was flying! I was effin'-L-Y-in'!"
Blood/Gore: A man rips a small bandaid off a tiny cut revealing a little bloody cut and some blood on the bandaid.
Violence: Marty accidentally bumps Alex into a tree branch while leading him and he falls and rolls down a hill; A little animal throws up a bunch of cake icing; A monkey throws a TV out of a hotel window. The room's been trashed and we see the penguins having a pillow fight; The animals burst through pipes and air ducts and land on top of each other; A penguin hits a monkey with a periscope; The animals crash through a casino roof to the floor starting a panic. Julien puts pencils in his nose, mouth and ears. While dancing, he smacks Maurice who then spins around from the momentum; An SUV crashes through the wall, scooping up the animals; We see all kinds of animal heads mounted on DuBois's wall in her office; The SUV crashes through the streets and causes a sports car to explode. DuBois then walks through the flames; Captain Chantel DuBois slaps a man's face repeatedly. A miscellaneous man then slaps another man; Julien is hit with a tranquilizer dart in the butt and falls over; The SUV smashes into cars on the street, flips over and rights intself; Random objests hit DuBois in the face; DuBois points a gun at Alex; The SUV loses control and goes flying through the air, smashing into a hotel sign on a roof; A monkey shoots bananas at DuBois. She fights them off, then hooks Melman by the neck and hangs off of him as she then crashes into a building, running through walls and after them. She climbs a line hanging off a helicopter on the way to him and Alex cuts it with a claw and she falls into a pool below; A gear flies off the airplane and hits Alex in the head and then the plane plummets through the sky and crashes on the ground; Vitaly throws knives and blades at Stefano and the other animals which stick in the wood walls around them. The penguins then cut through the ceiling with a chainsaw; Julain kicks Maurice and Mort into a train cabin where we see scary tools hanging from the ceiling and claw marks on the walls. Julien then steps on the bone of a fish and hears the growls of an animal and the red eyes of it in the dark. It then approaches him to reveal being a small female bear who then bites a dead fish in half. The head of the fish falls to the floor and Julien picks it up, flirting with her. She swallows him and it and then spits him out; A French policeman slips on a banana peel and accidentally fires his gun; DuBois is almost hit by a train and she calmly drops to the tracks and rolls out from underneath it as it passes over; Marty calls tiny circus dogs "really cute" and one smashes a bottle and another draws a knife menacingly in offense to the comment; Vitaly menacingly screams in Alex's face; Julien causes ancient ruins in Rome to collapse; Julien and Sonya fall down a flight of steps, crushing her unicycle; A man holding a ring that was stolen by Julien is suddenly held at gunpoint by a group of cops; Alex falls through several paper divider panels and accidentally bumps heads Gia, a female lion. She then puts a hulahoop around him and threatens him; DuBois crashes a vespa and goes flying off of it into a fountain. She's about to shoot an animal with a pistol but the Italian police pop up and she shoots one in the face with a tranquelizer. She then shoots another with a tranquelizer and then another in the finger before she runs out of ammo; Stefano accidentally trips on balls and swallows them and then spits them out, hitting a specator in the face; A kid hits an elephant repeatedly with spitballs or something and then the elephant accidentally falls onto him with the kid going up its butt. We then see the side profile of the elephant with the kid's legs sticking out of its butt; A spooked horse kicks a small dog which lands in a man's mouth. The dog then smacks the man in the face; An Italian cop fires his gun wildly at the ceiling and is hit in the face with a piece of the ceiling; We see photos during a backstory flashback catch on fire; In a flashback, Vitaly menacingly roars at Stefano; Vitaly throws knives at Alex that stick around him; Little Freddie punches another dog in the face; We see several agents in beds all wrapped up in casts and neck braces. DuBois shoots out the lights in the room and starts singing, giving her men strength to bust out of their casts and beds. One guy rips a bandaid off a tiny cut; We see Stefano in a cannon full of dynamite and then him being shot out into the air. He smacks into a mountain side and then Marty is shot through the air after him and smacks into the same mountain; The mini dogs are seen punching and smacking each other and then we see one with rocket shoes fly into the side of the train; We see Stefano shot out of a cannon; Alex and Gia smack into poles and such as they practice the trapeze. Then Marty is shot out of a cannon and knocks them onto a net; A banana cigar bursts in the face of an eagle; The penguins tie up DuBois and her men and shoot them out of a cannon, then one of the penguins slaps another; Sonya slams Julien on the floor and then yells in his face; The animals are hit with tranquelizers and then DuBois threatens to cut off Alex's head with a saw; DuBois fires a poisonous dart at Alex, but Gia saves him; Sonya repeatedly strikes DuBois in the face with the wheel of her Ducati; DuBois ropes Stefano and slaps him on the ground; DuBois and Alex slap each other. She then threatens the saw at his neck again and Alex tosses her into a cage. Mort then shoots her with a tranquelizer; We see DuBois and her guys tied up and squeezed into animal crates.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.