'Madagascar 3': Third Trip Is a Charmer
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Third in the lucrative series, this European adventure grabs you up for a brightly colored, fast-action odyssey full of energy and pizzazz -- and never lets go. Three-dimensional effects are integral in "Madagascar 3," climaxing in a spectacularly surreal laser light show under the Biggest Top ever. All in all, a "Mad"-cap romp that plays it straight, generating warmhearted laughs for kids rather than piling up nonstop popcult allusions and innuendo for the pleasure of snickering adults.
Stuck in Africa, the Madagascar menagerie are still jonesing to get back to the little Central Park zoo they once called home. When best buds penguins and chimps take off in their Rube Goldberg flying machine, destination Monte Carlo, the gang of four -- Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) -- snorkel their way over to the Riviera.
There, in a luxe casino, the hilariously grotesque "King of Versailles" -- comprised of two chimps masquerading as a Louis XIV dandy, including a ginormous powdered wig, whiteface, lounge lizard mustache and lipstick -- is busy breaking the bank when lion, giraffe, hippo and zebra literally drop in. Needless to say, chaos and widespread destruction ensue, triggering wild pursuit all over Europe by a fanatical French animal control cop.
One of the most deliciously villainous creatures ever animated, Capt. Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand in vocal excelsis) is a pointy-nosed redhead who channels crazy DNA from Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen and comes at you cone-shaped boobs first. Driven by the zeal of an Inspector Javert, Chantel goes so flat to the ground to sniff out her prey, she looks like a cross between a big-butted beetle and a bloodhound. Not sure what the little ones will make of it, but no grown-up will soon forget DuBois' show-stopping apotheosis, belting out Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien."
Our heroes, trailing lemurs, swiftly take cover on a train transporting a failed traveling circus. Hurtling toward Rome, they get acquainted with a trio of tres-cool characters: Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), a grouchy, square-jawed Siberian tiger who has lost his passion for zooming -- courtesy of gallons of olive oil -- through a very small, flaming ring; Gia (Jessica Chastain), a sleek, absolutely adorable jaguar; and Stefano, an IQ-challenged Italian sea lion (Martin Short, superb) who may be a marine cousin of Disney's Goofy. Like the original cast, these newcomers are richly and idiosyncratically voiced.
The high point of the circus hijinks is a perversely endearing romance between Sacha Baron Cohen's stringy lemur and the great, roly-poly bear in a pink tutu he dubs "my hairy queen." Their interspecies tryst plays out in an Eternal City drenched in soft golden light. The sequence is so lyrically visualized, it segues from fall-down-funny into genuine sweetness.
The collision between homesick zoo animals and once-famous, now-derailed circus beasties causes all manner of sparks to fly. Single-mindedly trying to get off the road and head home, Alex and his crew find that they've inadvertently run away to the circus, to jump-start their glamorous new pals into renewed creativity. The film's passages of playful practice in an Alpine meadow, as amateurs and veteran performers break out of their comfort zones, revels in knockabout, giddy comedy -- leading to a dazzling many-ringed show by a circus transformed.
Directed by the same fellows who helmed the first two films, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath (joined here by Conrad Vernon), "Mad 3" goes from stasis to breathlessly berserk, a full-on hallucination of light, color and kinesis worthy of an LSD trip. Darnell's co-writer on the movie is Noah Baumbach, director of "The Squid and the Whale" (a different kind of New York zoo story) and writer of Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox." He's brought his off-kilter wit and smarts to an animated bestiary that keeps you laughing while eloquently redefining where home is.
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.