Monday, June 11, 2012

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Wow, there's only about a dozen reviews for this on IMDB, which is surprising, because it opened on a bunch of screens and played at Cannes last month and it's a pretty good movie, not the sort that would usually be hidden from critics. I realize that all the online press corps was concentrating on Prometheus this past weekend, and it's easy to snark on DreamWorks/PDI's track record, especially with Pixar hanging around and this being a second sequel, but... Man, we can have tunnel vision, can't we?

And, honestly, it might be time to give DreamWorks/PDI (does anybody but me still remember PDI before their logo comes up at the end of a DreamWorks movie?) a little more slack. Yes, they are very commercial; they played the Shrek "make an unconventional setting like a modern city" meme out badly with Shark Tale, Bee Movie, and, honestly, some of the later Shrek stuff - heck, arguably with the Madagascar series as well. But they've also done the genuinely terrific How to Train Your Dragon and the quite spiffy Kung Fu Panda movies. They've got a distinctive voice, and while it might be nice to see them do something a little more challenging - their early cel-animated stuff was at least unique, if too Disney-like - they are not bad at what they do at all.

And I've got to admit, I was kind of impressed with the ending of this:


Remember how DreamWorks pushed Shrek Forever After as a final chapter a couple years ago? They didn't do that here, but the funny thing is, Madagascar 3 actually brings the series to a pretty solid conclusion, coming full circle to where the series began at the start of the first and showing how the animals' horizons have grown since then. It's the sort of thing that they could have easily gotten another sequel out of, but it works pretty well here. I especially like the very upbeat attitude the movie has on the whole idea of growing up and leaving home - that Alex and company have outgrown the zoo is not a reason for sadness or melancholy, but excitement: They can do amazing things, see the world, and make new friends! And it's not even about them being where they "belong" in Africa - they go there and leave; the entire world is theirs now!

I mean, that's great, and a couple of things that strike me about this. One is that this is a theme that shows up a lot in the later Toy Story movies, but sort of around the periphery; we feel a little bit of the heartstring-tugging as Andy gets ready to go to college, but it's sort of a side thing, there to add some gravitas but not really the main thrust of the movie the way it (sneakily) takes that position here.

And, second - how cool is it that New York City/Manhattan winds up playing the part of the small, limited place that the characters outgrow? That's just awesomely cheeky casting against type!


In short: I like this a lot. There's a good chance that I like it more than Prometheus, which got all the 3D big screens and hype this weekend. But, man, is that a discussion for tomorrow...

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2012 in Arlington Capitol #4 (first-run, RealD 3D)

Given how popcorn film series have a tendency (and almost a need) to get more outrageous as they go on, it's no surprise that the line which best sums up Madagascar 3 comes from Skipper the Penguin (voiced by co-director Tom McGrath): "No brakes? I like the commitment!" It starts out as off-the-wall as its predecessors are at the end, and keeps going with reckless energy.

It's been a while since the penguins took off for Monte Carlo, and their friends from Central Park Zoo - lion Alex (voice of Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (voice of Chris Rock), hippo Gloria (voice of Jada Pinkett Smith), and giraffe Melman (voice of David Schwimmer), along with lemur friends King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), and Mort (voice of Andy Richter) - suspect they're not coming back. So they follow, but their plan gets them noticed by Monaco's top animal control officer, Captain Chantel DuBois (voice of Frances McDormand), who has always wanted to bag herself a lion. How does a group of wild animals on the loose in Europe escape? Well, there's this run-down circus that also has its eyes on New York...

Gag-wise, the start is not exactly promising, as it turns out that old-age makeup gags are even lame with CGI cartoon animals, when there's no actual old-age makeup. Once the movie gets to Monte Carlo - which it does with far more speed than explanation, which, honestly, is appreciated - it goes for gleeful slapstick right away, upping the ante on absurdity every minute or two, mixing in banter that's just as fast-paced as the physical comedy. Even when the movie slows down a little toward the middle, its jokes still hit at an impressive rate of success, still doing things that will likely make adults grin without hurting the momentum for kids. DuBois, in particular, is a wonderful invention; a villain as broadly funny and ridiculous as the talking animals who is still an adversary worth watching out for.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: