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Reel Mama: 'Madagascar 3': Zany 'big top' romp finds its heart

Saturday, June 9, 2012

'Madagascar 3': Zany 'big top' romp finds its heart

Photo credit: Dreamworks

Make no mistake about it: “Madagascar 3” is geared to the “SpongeBob” crowd.  It’s a nonstop animated all-you-can-eat buffet of wacky chase scenes, silly stunts, and outlandish scenarios involving a gang of African wildlife with a serious case of wanderlust. 
In the first “Madagascar” film Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) wanted only to escape their cages at the zoo.  Their natural habitat in Africa, where they reside at the beginning of this third installment, just doesn’t feel like home.  New York City is where they belong.  Africa is boring -- growing old there is Alex’s worst nightmare -- and they just have to get out of there.  

Photo credit: Dreamworks

By any means necessary, in this case swimming, the animals reach Monte Carlo, where their troublemaking friends the mischievous penguins are hiding out (seeing “Madagascar 1 and 2” may be necessary for context).  What follows is a whirlwind tour of Europe that would leave even the most seasoned backpackers totally breathless.  After almost destroying the casino, the animals find themselves with animal control Captain Chantel Dubois (Frances McDormand) hot on their tails, and the gang takes refuge with a traveling circus.
In the first half of the movie, the pace of the story is relentless, churning out one zany moment after another, so that it’s hard to get emotionally invested in the story.  It feels rushed, as if the filmmakers feared that children wouldn’t enjoy it if it took its time.  Children will be mesmerized and entertained, and find plenty of laugh-out-loud funny moments, but might not connect with the characters from the beginning as they would with “Finding Nemo.”  Parents might find their eyes glazing over.
An all-star cast at the top of their game gives voice to the animals, and each one is memorable and unique.  Stiller is heartfelt as Alex, and Chris Rock’s zingers as Marty never disappoint (the "big top" in this case is his rainbow afro).  The characters are a lovable and funny if an easily distracted and accident prone bunch, but the first half of the movie doesn’t give them a chance to shine for who they are.  
Luckily the heart of the story takes center stage midway when Alex and his crew find that they need to re-invent the circus, which has fallen on hard times, as a means to get back to New York.  Some of the circus animals long to recapture their glory days, and the scenes of preparing for and performing at the new circus are engaging and even sometimes touching.  Bryan Cranston as Vitaly the tiger who jumps through hoops of fire is particularly sympathetic.
Martin Short as Stefano the emotionally unstable sea lion would steal the show if it weren’t for McDormand, whose militant, villainous huntress has a French accent dripping with wicked fun.  For her spotlight moment, she sings Edith Piaf’s “Rien de Rien,” which is almost an anthem for the French, in order to reinvigorate her team in her search for the animals.  The transformed circus is a dazzling spectacle.  The rainbow polka dot circus afros figure prominently, a hilarious sight gag.  It wouldn’t be giving too much to say that in the end, the animals find where they truly belong.
Reel Mama’s Rating: Appropriate for five and up.  Harmless rude humor with an occasional joke geared to parents that will easily fly over little one’s heads (i.e., a spoof of Nelly’s “Hot in Here” with the lemur Julien performed by Sacha Baron Cohen singing “I want to take my fur off”).  There’s some slapstick Looney Tunes-style violence and shooting of dart guns.

Photo credit: Dreamworks


At June 9, 2012 at 10:53 AM , Blogger Mandy- Read. Write. Mom! said...

Oh, I can't wait to take my son to see this! We are huge Madagascar fans!


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