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Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

June 12, 2012
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

DreamWorks loves their series, and so it was inevitable that they’d bring out another installment of their Madagascar franchise. Now, this is not inherently a knock against the movie; they can and have done some good work, even in sequels and spinoffs. But an hour after watching Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted I’m still wondering what the hell just happened. Let’s try to piece it together.

As we start, the group is still trapped in Africa. Alex (Ben Stiller) — the lion — is trying to hold things together as the leader while Marty (Chris Rock) — the zebra — acts silly and Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) — the giraffe and hippopotamus, respectively — just sort of hang around. The penguins, led by Skimmer (Tom McGrath), have flown off with the chimpanzees in a warp-drive-capable shell of an airplane to Monte Carlo with a promise to return and take the other four to New York after breaking the bank at Le Grand Casino. This makes slightly more sense if you’ve seen the second film in the series, but not enough to make any difference to your sanity.

So the four decide to go to Monaco themselves — how they can get there but not New York is left unsaid — where they find the penguins and chimps living it up. However, the sight of four wild animals in the Casino sparks a riot, which catches the attention of the psychopathic head of animal control, Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). After a chase that scoffs at the very idea of spatial relationships the animals all end up back on the plane, which promptly crashes in a train yard, where a circus train is about to depart. Some fast-talking wins over a goofy sea lion, Stephano (Martin Short), and an indifferently-accented jaguar, Gia (Jessica Chastain), securing their escape despite the protests of the knife-throwing slavic tiger, Vitaly (Bryan Cranston).

Oh yes, and that flamboyant lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen) is running around and falling in love with a pretty much completely unanthropomorphized bear (Frank Welker). So there’s that.

Now, maybe the whole Europe angle is meant to come through as an artistic reference. The continent did give rise to absurdism, after all. And aside from a hackneyed we-can-do-it-if-we-all-work-together moral there’s more of a coherent plot to be found in Un Chien Andalou. It is, however, spectacular at intervals; the main circus act, in particular, is immaculately choreographed. Two other major action sequences are as well, but the circus act is saved from utter chaos by the fact that some combination of the three directors chose to stage it much more abstractly.

The movie has just two speeds: way too fast and way too slow. The slow bits are meant to lay out whatever excuse for a story is supposed to get us from one fast bit to another, but as I’ve said there isn’t really a story to lay out. And so we fall back on bizarre sight gags and oblique references the overstimulated kids are pretty much guaranteed to miss. I give McDormand full credit for her completely inexplicable rendition of “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien” — the woman has some serious pipes — but it was simply bemusing in its context; even trying to explain it rationally would send me right around the bend.

And the fast bits have the requisite bright colors, flashing lights, and all sorts of stuff thrown at the audience in 3D, and none of it makes much coherent sense. I seriously wonder whether cynically playing to the idea of todays’ kids’ minuscule attention span might not be what actually causes its atrophy in the first place. Any given five seconds may hang together in some sort of narrative, but beyond that you’re on your own. If that’s enough to keep you entertained — whether because you’re a young child or because you’re incredibly high — more power to you.

The most frustrating part is that it really didn’t have to be this way; we’ve got a sloppy, cynical mish-mash because the filmmakers were too lazy to do anything else. Even working within the whole Europe idea, would it really have been too much to ask to dust off some hoary old Pink Panther plot and rehash it using these characters? I know David Niven and Peter Sellers aren’t around anymore, but come on, it says “panther” right there in the name.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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