Third time’s not a charm
Animal control officer Chantel Dubois, voiced by Frances McDormand, is after the critters in “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.”
Updated: August 13, 2012 3:49PM
“Oh, no, no; I am only average intelligence,” demurs Stefano the Sea Lion, a likable but lamentably untalented circus performer, who has just been declared a genius on the strength of his Cunning Plan to Save the Day in “Madagascar 3.” Then he leans in and adds, in a confidential tone: “Some say maybe even slightly below.”
His confidence in making such a statement might have something to do with the fact that Stefano is conversing with Alex the Lion, the not-terribly-bright star of the “Madagascar” franchise.
Or it might indicate an almost spooky meta-awareness (we’re talking about a sea lion here, remember) that a general dearth of creative brilliance hasn’t prevented the last two installments from racking up more than a billion dollars at the box office worldwide — to say nothing of no-doubt-dazzling DVD sales.
In the “Madagascar”-verse, it’s energy and oomph that matter, and enough general silliness to keep youngsters giggling, even during the de rigeur moral lessons.
And there’s plenty of all three in this latest installment to power it through to another half-bill (with 3-D bonuses), even though inspiration is more sadly lacking than ever and the whole enterprise has an air of frantic desperation.
If you’ll recall, the first “Madagascar” had Central Park Zoo inmates Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith, divorce notwithstanding) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) busting out of captivity and winding up, much to their dismay, in the titular boonies on the other side of the world.
“Madagascar 2” had the quartet, supplemented by the lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen channeling Robin Williams) escaping from Madagascar in a monkey-powered airplane commanded by macho, military-industrial penguins (the series’ saving comic grace, with co-director Tom McGrath providing the voice of their insanely can-do leader) only to crash-land in Africa, allowing our heroes to explore their wild heritage.
So, having done the “wild heritage” thing, what’s left for the series to explore in adventure number three? Apparently, a 1960s-style European caper film, minus the caper, with all the attendant opportunities for our escaped heroes to cavort through Monte Carlo, Rome and Paris, their adventures juiced up by modern-day, adrenaline-pumping, action-movie set-pieces.
Early on, in Monte Carlo, Alex, Gloria, Melman and Marty, who have apparently snorkeled their way from Africa to Europe, in a casino-devastating attempt to retrieve their runaway penguin pilots, attract the unwanted attention of animal control officer Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand).
Dubois lacks only one trophy to add to the collection of bagged animals on her wall: an African lion. And she determines to pursue the hapless Alex across the continent with a degree of psychotically ruthless determination that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator robot look wishy-washy by comparison.
Whether or not Captain Dubois’ desire to hack Alex’s head off and mount him on her office wall disqualifies “Madagascar 3” as morally improving children’s fare is a matter for parental discretion. And it must be said, in fairness to the filmmakers, that “M3” is decidedly anti-head-lopping and pro-enlightened self interest, as our heroes hide out in a run-down Euro-circus traveling by train across the continent.
Eventually, they realize, everyone wins if they can crank up the show’s entertainment quotient enough to win an American touring contract — and a passage back to New York. They fail to reckon, though, on the emotional power of the personal connections they make along the way. Not to mention the improving sentiments wedged in between action sequences about facing one’s fears and following one’s passion.
When all’s said and done (in increasingly, wearyingly garish 3-D animation), “Madagascar 3” will probably serve just as admirably as its predecessors a few months from now, as home-video electronic babysitting. The only potential problem being: If kids get used to this level of crazed bombast at such an early age, what will it take to thrill them 10 or 20 years later?