- Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Most film franchises suffer from diminishing returns and Madagascar looked like it was heading downhill from an arguably disappointing starting position. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, not only bucks the franchise trend, but will leave audiences wanting more.
What this family friendly film lacks in verisimilitude and plot, it makes up for in wit, good natured humour, sympathetic characters - all superbly voiced - and stunning animation that far exceeds that of the previous two films.
It’s even worth wearing the glasses because for once, the well-used 3D significantly enhances the animation.
Alex, the lion (Ben Stiller) is tiring of Africa where he sees himself ageing prematurely (oh, horror!). In an ironic variation of Born Free, he laments about how he’s homesick for the Central Park Zoo. Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman, the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria, the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), agree with his plan to collect the penguins, gambling with the monkeys in Monte Carlo, and then head back to the Big Apple.
They emerge in scuba gear from underwater, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies, or 007 in Thunderball in the Monte Carlo yacht basin. The set design here is so real you think you’re there, and the obvious contrast with the parched African landscape tells us the friends are firmly in Europe. In a wink at the Italian Job and Oceans 11, they manage to get out of the Casino alive, but not without attracting the attention of Captain Chantel DuBois, animal-hating cop who always gets her man, er, animal. DuBois is brilliantly voiced by Frances McDormand, but looks more like a cross between Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeny Todd and Glen Close in 101 Dalmatians.
As her name (‘of the woods’) suggests, one often hates what one fears in oneself, and the Captain does exhibit some unusual investigative techniques. She’s often found on all fours sniffing the scent of the convicts. DuBois sings ‘No je ne regrette rien’ (No Regrets) as a rallying cry and, acting more like a hungry lion than Alex ever did, stops at nothing to apprehend her prey.
When various obstacles, including the French labour laws, prevent the animals from continuing their journey by plane, they hide out with a struggling travelling circus. Here new characters and relationships are introduced, notably, Vitaly, a proud Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) with complex insecurity issues, and Gia, a sexy jaguar (Jessica Chastain) for whom Alex swings on the trapeze. Alex manages to turn Vitaly’s dying circus into a money-making flying circus, the idea being, to tour their way back to New York. But they hadn’t bargained on Captain DuBois’ persistence.
The second half of the film is largely dominated by the successful circus where the film bursts with colour and animation feats to match those of the circus performers.
Talking, intelligent animals is a convention that we all accept, of course, but here, the animals have shed their animal characteristics to the point where there is no longer anything differentiating the animals from the humans. This has the effect of making the characters less child cuddly than adult compatible. The film becomes so anthropomorphised that the only clue you have that you’re watching a lion and a tiger is because they are drawn to resemble them.