Review of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

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Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria are back for your entertainment in this hilarious follow-up to Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. The animal buddies are still trying to get home to New York City, but end up re-routing once again and end up in Monte Carlo where they join a traveling circus.
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Movie Review: "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"

-- Rating: PG (mild action, rude humor)
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2012
Directed by: Eric Darnell
Genre: Comedy/Animation/Adventure

The conventional wisdom about movie franchises is that each entry will not live up to the previous one. There are a few rare exceptions, such as "The Godfather" trilogy, where the sequel is widely considered to be superior to the groundbreaking original. Though "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" is no "Godfather: Part II," it is better than both the original movie and the 2008 sequel.

The core cast is back, including Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), who is still the leader of the pack that includes Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). When "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" left off, the group had teamed up with several other animals and settled in Africa, where they would be free forever. This film picks up where that movie left off, though the animals that joined Alex and company in the previous film are not around. No explanation is given for this, but it does conveniently allow writers Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach to introduce a new set of zany characters.

When the film begins, the penguins from the previous movies have taken the group's airplane and flown across the Mediterranean to the French Riviera to do some gambling. Their time in Monte Carlo is short-lived, though, as they cause a ruckus in the casino and are promptly chased out. Believing that the penguins are a nuisance, casino workers call in animal control officer Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). DuBois is a raging animal hater that will probably catch the ire of animal lovers everywhere. She is also somewhat shrill and has a penchant for singing Edith Piaf songs at inappropriate times.

Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria are clearly bored with their new life in Africa. Though they dreamed of their freedom ever since they broke out of the zoo in the original movie, they are now missing their old Central Park home. This is where the movie strains credibility a bit. It is perfectly acceptable that they should have a touch of wanderlust. However, they decide they want to go back to captivity, which seems impossible after all they went through to escape and find permanent freedom.

No matter how believable it is that they would want to go back to captivity, the group takes off for Monte Carlo to join the penguins. They snorkel across the ocean only to find DuBois hot on the trail of the penguins. Since they are friends with the penguins, they naturally become a target for DuBois as well.

This is where the action sequences begin, with Alex and company trying to stay at least one step ahead of the sadistic DuBois. Though the film is available in both 2D and 3D, these sequences are best enjoyed in 3D. The audience will be highly entertained by the variety of animals that appear to be up close and personal because of the three dimensions.

The group is not only trying to escape the clutches of DuBois, but they also are trying to make their way across Europe to get back to New York. They find a train full of circus animals led by Siberian tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) who are frantically rehearsing a big show. If they can pull of the show, they can get a contract to perform in the United States. Alex sees this as the group's way home. They decide to help the ragtag group that includes sea lion Stefano (Martin Short) and jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain) put on a dazzling performance.

This gives the film the chance to stage a song-and-dance number similar to what fans of the first two films might expect. The rehearsals leading up to the big number provide some of the biggest laughs in the entire film. It seems Stefano is way too eager to please and be liked, while Gia slinks around sexily, drawing the eye of some of the males.

The movie effortlessly integrates the new characters into the film, which is part of the reason this film is arguably the best out of the entire trilogy. The real standout is McDormand as DuBois, who is as over-the-top as an animal control officer can get. She is hilarious and though some of her jokes are a bit mean-spirited, they are always in keeping with the character. In fact, the new and returning characters are so well-written that the audience will likely leave the theater sad that this might be the last film in the franchise. Will there be a "Madagascar 4?" Nobody knows just yet but, after this film, most viewers will hope a fourth movie is made.