With the appeal of life in Africa rapidly waning, our animal heroes — Alex (Stiller), Marty (Rock), Melman (Schwimmer) and Gloria (Pinkett-Smith), plus King Julien XIII (Baron Cohen) — decide to go home to New York, via Europe. But France’s top animal control inspector forces them to run away with the circus...
Most threequels are presented with a particularly thorny problem: they have to embrace the familiar while coming up with something new, also continuing the character and story development of the previous two movies.
Madagascar 3, thankfully, doesn’t give two figs about that sort of stuff, and the result is one of the more surreal, gloriously all-over-the-shop surprises of 2012 animation, the last thing we might have expected from a franchise that, after the ongoing TV show and the previous two instalments, seemed to have run out of momentum.
But, perhaps freed up by the limitless horizons of animation or by writers, directors and actors unwilling merely to go through the motions, it revels in a bombardment of jokes of all shapes and sizes. Interestingly, the film’s co-writer is Noah Baumbach, the indie director who last worked with Ben Stiller on Greenberg. That was a laugh-an-hour — Madagascar 3 showcases both men’s nuttier side, and upgrades that quota with ease.
It starts as it means to go on: with scant regard for anything approaching logic, as our four heroes — having finally made it all the way to Africa — quickly decide that they’re utterly bored with life on the savannah. Dreaming of refuge back at the zoo in Central Park, they head for Europe. A movie that was concerned with plot holes or ‘reality’ would spend ages trying to figure out how to get these four talking animals from Africa to Europe. Madagascar 3’s three directors know that because they’re talking animals, anything goes, and so simply cuts to them washing up on the shores of Monte Carlo. The solution? Snorkels. Well, of course.
It sets the pace for what’s to come. Which is, in short, deliciously bonkers. In quick succession, the team reunite with the sardonic Skipper (co-director Tom McGrath) and his magnificently twisted penguins, clean out a casino, and find themselves pursued by the series’ first human antagonist, Frances McDormand’s French animal control inspector, Chantal DuBois. An unstoppable Terminatrix who’s desperate to put Alex’s head on her wall of furry fame, DuBois is a hilarious — if not entirely politically correct — creation, and is often the source of the film’s best jokes, whether it’s her unflappability and Matrix-like reactions in the insane Monte Carlo car chase (the car, of course, being driven by the penguins), or a slew of great sight gags as the action moves to Italy and she outwits a succession of bumbling local polizia.
As our heroes elude DuBois by joining a ramshackle travelling circus peopled — or should that be animaled? — by deadbeat rejects desperate to recapture past glories, the pace continues to zip along, and the new characters — including Bryan Cranston as a sinister tiger with hidden depths — blend well with the existing set. In fact, if anything, the original quartet are given short shrift during the second half of the movie, bar Stiller’s Alex and Sacha Baron Cohen’s demented lemur, King Julien XIII, who bags arguably the movie’s funniest scenes as he embarks upon a beautiful and ill-considered inter-species love affair.
In many ways, that ever-so-slightly-wrong subplot is a perfect example of why Madagascar 3 is a movie that Pixar, for all its virtues, simply couldn’t make. There are no wholesome messages here, and any ‘be the best you can be’ moments feel like half-hearted sops. Instead, this is a gleefully joyous, zany and anarchic animation where the chief issue confronted is an old one that’s gripped comedians from time immemorial: simply put, make ’em laugh.
While it may blunder down the odd comedy cul-de-sac, Madagascar 3 is often inspired and very, very funny.