Review: "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"

For someone who does not have any kids of his own, I end up watching quite a few animated films every year. I generally don’t expect much from these films (not including Pixar’s entries into the field) but as much as I love the complex, deeper movies the world has to offer, sometimes I like watching something that’s easy to follow and wraps up quickly. Madagascar, however, is one that surprised me and turned out to be much more entertaining than I would have guessed. As such, the third installment of the franchise holds a little more weight for me than the average DreamWorks animated feature and while it doesn’t quite measure up to the original, Europe’s Most Wanted provides a solid family adventure that everyone can enjoy.

With his homesickness deepening, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) and his old chums Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) decide to head to Monte Carlo to track down their friends the penguins and make their way back to New York. Upon arrival, the group is pursued by Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), an overzealous animal control officer, who wrecks Alex’s escape plan and forces the animals to stow away aboard a train transporting a raggedy circus. With an audition for an American circus promoter on the horizon, Alex and his friends seize the opportunity and set about creating a new act that will impress the scout and buy their passage back to New York. But with Captain DuBois hot on their trail and time running short, Alex and his friends are forced to question the meaning of the word “home.”

The best thing about Europe’s Most Wanted (and the other Madagascarmovies as well) is that it moves at a brisk pace. No time is wasted in filling in the details of ridiculous plot points, such as how the animals swim from Africa to Monte Carlo. The filmmakers behind this franchise embrace the fact that their concept is absurd so there’s no point in trying to come up with a perfect narrative. Perhaps that sounds silly but often times I run into children’s movies that spend an inordinate amount of time working through a logical plot progression when the movie itself is about talking birds or a sword fighting cat. Everything about Europe’s Most Wanted is quick, easy, and breezy and never bogs down. Obviously that’s important for the attention span of the film’s target audience but it’s also vitally important for people like me who just want a 90 minute break from thinking.

This film also succeeds in keeping the premise fresh, always a tricky feat for a sequel to a sequel. At some point even (modest) fans of this franchise like myself will become tired of Alex and the rest of the gang but at least up to through this installment, the filmmakers have managed to keep things from becoming overly repetitive. Likewise, there’s still a fair amount of heart displayed by these characters and while you can see the change in attitude coming from miles away, it’s still a satisfying occurrence to watch Alex and company evolve. The additions to the cast of characters are all worthwhile and the assembled voice talent is even more impressive. Moreover, the focus is actually placed on the new characters, not on the actors who voice them. I have frequently complained that DreamWorks animation often falls into the trap of highlighting the men and women behind the characters at the expense of the characters themselves. But here, the new cast members, including Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, and the immortal Martin Short, all blend in seamlessly and provide some excellent moments in their own right.

There are some definite flaws here and there and Europe’s Most Wanted certainly isn’t reinventing the animated wheel, but the film hits all of the applicable marks and I think it delivers the movie most will expect it to be. If nothing else, it is an acceptable bookend on a series that might not be beloved but certainly serves as quality family entertainment.