- Vancouver, British Columbia - With Pixar films regularly blowing audiences away with cutting edge graphics, tight writing, and touching characterizations, it can be really easy to overlook other CG cartoon features. Even Disney’s own CG releases have been pretty forgettable. DreamWorks’s Madagascar series was no exception. Sure, it made oodles of money, but I found the first movie to be okay at best, and the second movie to be mediocre (and that animated series is hardly a gem). So my expectations weren’t high for this, the third installment in the movie franchise.
Well, I was shocked to discover that I actually really enjoyed this film! Sure, it’s not quite Pixar caliber, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a rather good film and easily dwarfs everything else Madagascar.
The film opens with Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) being stranded in Africa, awaiting the penguins to return from Monte Carlo with casino winnings to fund their voyage back to the New York Central Park Zoo. The gang realizes they’re sick of waiting and within the first 10 minutes of the film appear on the shores of Monaco. While trying to rescue the penguins and their chimp associates from their gambling addiction, they attract the attention of animal control officer Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), a seasoned and deadly professional who yearns for a lion head on her trophy wall. Trying to escape the psychotic woman, the animals hop a circus train on a European tour, eventually bound for New York. They buy the circus with the intent of bringing new life to the failing endeavor, but DuBois does not give up easily.
This film has some surprisingly funny banter, with plenty of jokes strictly for adults, and that’s a huge bonus. Too often we are delivered movies that are completely juvenile with nothing appealing to adults, and I look down on that. Even Sesame Street has always contained adult references, and the reasoning is two fold: 1) so that adults don’t drool themselves to sleep while the show is on and 2) so that the rewatch value is higher. Kids can come back to the show years later and enjoy it not just for nostalgic value, but also because they now understand some of the jokes they didn’t get the first time around. That’s a sign of good writing, and of understanding your audience.
The character of DuBois, played by the ever fantastic Frances McDormand, easily wins this film over for me. She’s so amazingly intense and over the top. Watching the way she’s animated is hilarious – at times she’s a spider, other times T-1000, and still other times Jason Bourne. Amazingly ludicrous, she’s the perfect antagonist for the Madagascar gang.
The opening scenes are priceless. The crew is in Africa, and as I mentioned above, within 10 minutes they’re in Europe. But it’s not sloppy writing as much as it’s an acknowledgement of the second movie, and a need to move on from it (almost as if the writers are hoping to distance themselves from that yawn fest as soon as possible). Alex basically tells the others, “Hey, we’ve had some wacky adventures and motored through them, so crossing this entire continent and the Mediterranean will be an uneventful breeze!” And hey, apparently it was.
There’s a lot of humour found with the circus, and all the trouble they get in to there. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds the circus to be a pretty tired setting with tired clichés, but Madagascar 3 cleverly sidesteps almost all of them. The characters are pretty stereotypical (the angry Russian knife performing Tiger, the sultry acrobat Cheetah, and the goofy juggling Sea Lion), but how they’re used is pretty fresh. Plus the idea of a reverse Cirque de Soleil, with only animals and no humans, is a great idea.
Unfortunately, the film makers heard the ka-ching of money and opted to go 3D for this feature, and while not bad or too gimmicky, it also added absolutely nothing to the movie. When I think back to it, I scarcely recall the 3D. And since audiences are continually gouged at the box office for this addition to their cinema experience, I’d like for it to mean something. There have been quite a few films that have used 3D quite solidly, leaving me impressed and grateful for the addition, but there was really no point besides hopping on the bandwagon.
The only other possible downside is that there’s very little character development for the individual characters, but ultimately I’m okay with it. We’ve gotten to know these guys during the last two movies, and some of the development in the past was boring, or downright troubling (Melman and Gloria’s love affair…yeah). But the four animals as a group at least have a character arc when, spoiler alert, they finally return to New York and realize how small their cages really are when compared to the big world they’ve travelled in. There’s a lot of honesty in that scene, as all of us at some point yearn for an idealized cage, and eventually have to confront the reality of the ideal against our own experiences. Solid message for a kid flick.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film, but I do honestly hope this is the last one. Come on DreamWorks, end on a high note! The films have come full circle, so don’t ruin a good thing. But as for you, film lover, take your kid and go have a few good laughs.
Rating: 4/5 Sour Grapes