24 October 2012


Nobody could reproach you if Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted didn't place strongly on your must-see list. With a whole bunch of interesting family-friendly animated movies still showing, and Skyfall imminent, you needn't have anticipated this third instalment even half as much as the army of young fans who've been watching the first two films on repeat for the last six years or so. Still, what I had failed to anticipate myself is that it would be so surreal.

Up to this point, the series has followed four escaped zoo animals- Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo- on their misadventures around the world, and this new sequel finds them still trying to get home to New York, from Africa. Chasing down the penguins at a casino in Monte Carlo, they come to the attention of DuBois, a fearsome and unnaturally resilient animal control officer who gives chase across the whole of Europe. The gang try to hide out amongst circus animals, and find themselves trying to turn the circus' ill fortunes around by coming up with a new show.

This one is apparently the final chapter, save the spin-off with the penguins that's due in a couple of years' time, and it wastes no time in striking a tone that's markedly different from the previous two films. All of a sudden, the series has come over all Looney Tunes, and the utterly nutty opening sequence in Monte Carlo plays almost like a Bond movie opener, enacted on Daffy Duck's rules. Never mind that the animals have apparently snorkelled their way to Monaco, from Africa- animals can't talk, either! This one dispenses with a lot of what has been established about the series, in order to be as big, bold and inventive as it can be.

Given how it has to apparently shake off the shackles of common sense in order to add anything, the folks from DreamWorks Animation seem to have looked from the scripts to the first two films, to the spreadsheets relating to their box office success, and opted to throw out the former. I don't have a problem with this, seeing as how they also opted for a better, funnier script. The first Madagascar film was fun, and the second was a confused, blatant retread of The Lion King, so if they have to move forward, I'd much rather they do it like this, with massive, ridiculous action and jokes, than with another retread. For the most part, it's about as much fun as the first one.

Noah Baumbach, who wrote the loathsome Greenberg and a few other mumble-movies, is an unexpected contributor to the script, even after Charlie Kaufman did some punch-up work on Kung Fu Panda 2. While the film fulfills the DreamWorks quota of jokes that pander to the adults, they lean less heavily on innuendo or pop culture references, and there's some of Baumbach's voice in there, but not to a stultifying effect. Some of the more baffling elements, like King Julian the wacky lemur having a surreal romance with a performing bear on a motorbike, would surely have been there since the story stage, so it's presumably in the dialogue, if anywhere, that you'd detect his scripting influence.

As with the ongoing Ice Age juggernaut, the core characters stopped being interesting a while ago, though it does better than Continental Drift, because its new supporting characters are all more vivid and appealing. Most prominently, the character of DuBois, voiced with panache by Frances McDormand, makes a hugely entertaining threat to our heroes, with her supernatural endurance and frightening quirks. Additions like this character, along with the general colourful volume of it all, might mask a rote kiddy animation plot structure with the circus, (outsiders blag their way into a group, becomes friends with them and then offends them when their lies are uncovered) but they make it all so much more enjoyable than it should be.

By making some unexpectedly bonkers creative decisions, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted marks something of a return to form in terms of quality, if you can say that for a series that sprang from a halfway memorable animated comedy. The noise and the colours may eventually give you a headache, if you're an old man like me, but it's more enjoyable while it lasts than I'd ever have predicted after part two. Kids love the series, and when I went to see this film, they were actually dancing in their seats as "I Like To Move It" blasts out for the millionth time. After How To Train Your Dragon bumped up the watermark for DreamWorks, and with Holiday-Avengers flick Rise of the Guardians also due next month, this third film shows more signs of a creative recalibration at the studio, albeit sometimes alarmingly surreal signs.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is now showing, in 2D and 3D, in cinemas nationwide. 
If you've seen Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, why not share your comments below? As DreamWorks is treating its selection of scriptwriters in the same way as it treats voice casting, I'm looking forward to Aaron Sorkin's take on How To Train Your Dragon 2, or Nicolas Winding Refn's Kung Fu Panda 3.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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