“Madagascar 3” is the best of the series, bright, fresh, fun, and funny, with a terrific script from co-director and Eric Darnell, a series regular, and, a bit improbably, “The Squid and the Whale’s” Noah Baumbach.
In the first Madagascar, four pampered animals from the Central Park Zoo leave home and find themselves on the title island off the coast of Africa. Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinckett Smith), a bunch of penguins, and a lemur (Sasha Baron Cohen) try to get back to New York, but only get as far as the mainland. The second installment was Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, where “home” took on new meaning as Alex was reunited with the parents he had not seen since he was captured as a cub. He was also reconnected with his inner animal as he learned about his heritage. As the third in the series opens, the animals are still trying to get back to the zoo. The penguins (minor characters in the first who were so popular they got their own spin-off) and chimps left for Monte Carlo at the end of the second movie and have not come back, as they promised, with the plane to take the zoo animals to New York. So Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria go after them. The chimps (dressed in absurd French finery) have been cleaning up at the gambling tables. But it is not easy for zoo animals to remain unnoticed in a casino, and soon the most lethal and relentless animal control officer in Europe, Captaine Chantel Dubois (Frances McDormand) is on the case.
There’s only one place zoo animals can hide out and be on the move at the same time. With Dubois after them, the zoo animals tell the circus animals that they are from a American circus to persuade them to let them on the train. They are on their way to Rome and then London where a scout will decide whether he wants to bring them to New York. Alex et al have to do more than hide out — they have to make the circus a success.
The storyline avoids the poor choices the first two stumbled over, which includes one character wanting to eat another and a tribal rite that involved sacrifice. This time, the circus setting is colorful and engaging, the action scenes are cleverly choreographed and briskly paced, and there is plenty for both children and their parents to laugh at. The characters seem like old friends for us and for each other, comfortable with each other and sweetly supportive. At first, they appear really old as Alex has a nightmare that they are all creaky and wrinkled. But it turns out it is just his birthday and his friends have honored the occasion by re-creating New York City out of mud. When an animated movie for children finds time to comment on the recently renovated Times Square’s “corporate lack of character,” you can be sure that the movie has some confidence and personality, not be the usual bland bore. They even find time for a meta-joke about jokes, a Marie Antoinette license plate, and a reference to the French economy, a fabulous rendition (under a spotlight) by Dubois of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” and a very touching lesson about home. Bien sur, je ne regrette cette film, and it even has me looking forward to part four.
Parents should know that this film has cartoon-style peril, action, and violence, fire, animal tracker uses tranquilizer darts and other weapons, brief potty humor
Family discussion: What changed the animals’ minds about going home? Who should be the leader? What did Alex and the circus animals teach each other?
If you like this, try: the first two “Madagascar” movies