The third in the popular cartoon series finds Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) joining the circus in hopes of finally making it back home to the Central Park Zoo.
‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ is an animated kids movie that short shrifts children as much as most romantic comedies swindle women. No matter the genre, a good film should be engaging with great characters and a compelling story. It should elicit some sort of emotional response – laughter, tears, compassion, excitement. Something. But nothing is what you get in this third go-round with Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), as they embark on an alleged comedic adventure to return to their home at the Central Park Zoo.
So disengaging is this installment that the boredom crosses generational divides. The tots (my 5-year-old included) in the audience never settled in. There were some scattered laughs, but most kids fumbled with their popcorn or lollipops and stirred in their seats. And who can blame them? Once you get past Rock, who’s responsible for most of the yucks, there’s really nothing of note. I’ve been to plenty of kid movies where the target audience is so enthralled they don’t ask to go to the bathroom three times in 90 minutes. This wasn’t one of them. I’m talking about films like the vastly superior “Despicable Me,” “WALL-e,” “Toy Story,” or “How to Train Your Dragon,” to name a few.
“Madagascar” can’t hold their jocks, even with three butts sharing the director’s chair: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath from the first two “Madagascar” flicks, and Conrad Vernon (“Monsters vs Aliens”). Darnell also wrote the script with Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale.”)
The film shows some early promise with a lively car chase through the streets of Monte Carlo. Animal control officer Capt. Chantel DuBois (an unrecognizable Frances McDormand) is hot on the animals’ tails, trying to capture Andy’s head to mount on her trophy wall. The animals flee to Rome where they hook up with a struggling traveling circus en route to London. There, they perform for an American promoter who wants to bring the circus to New York. In the mean time, the circus needs fine-tuning – a device that only adds drudgery to a super-slow second act. Predictably, DuBois and her team repeatedly show up to throw a monkey wrench into those efforts.
If you really must see this, skip the 3-D. The extra dimension adds nothing but dollars to the cost of admission. All you get is stuff whizzing by your head. Ho-hum.
And then there’s those forced jokes aimed at grownups that soar right over the kiddies’ heads. Except these one-liners consistently land with a thud – even the “Baba Booey” shout-out. Radio silence. Not one adult in the audience got that reference to shock-jock Howard Stern. They were probably so tuned out they didn’t even hear it.
Page 2 of 2 - There’s nothing in “Madagascar” that you haven’t seen before – intrepid animals, including a sexy feline (Jessica Chastain), a soundtrack laced with pop tunes (by will.i.am, Katy Perry and C & C Music Factory), blossoming love, conquering adversity, etc. etc. I’m also tired of seeing Ducati motorcycles in every European-set film. And, wanna bet the once-great-but-disgruntled Russian tiger (Bryan Cranston) in the circus does a 180-turnaround like Doc Hudson in “Cars?”
Eventually, Alex the Lion becomes the defacto leader of the circus. In his rally-the-troops speech, he bellows that the show is “stuck in a rut” and “takes no risks.” The same can be said for the movie.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE’S MOST WANTED
(PG for some mild action and rude humor). Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, David Schwimmer, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Frances McDormand. 1 star out of 4.