Friday, June 8, 2012

Life Is a Circus “Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted”

The Central Park Zoo is a very small, very urban zoo. It’s easy to imagine that the animals that live there would be New Yorkers first, wild animals second. That idea forms the core of the Madagascar franchise. This group of animals—a lion, hippo, giraffe, and zebra—are urbane, “show-biz” animals that love the adulation of the crowds, the three square meals a day, and the safety that comes with zoo life.

A series of mishaps has found them stranded in the wilds of Madagascar and the African continent. One way or the other, the Central Park animals, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) have been trying to get home. In Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, they make their way to NYC via Europe, hitching a ride with an old-world circus. When they find out that the circus hopes to win a contract to appear in New York City, the gang scams their way into the show.

Frances McDormand as DuBois
They’re running from one very determined animal control agent from Monte Carlo voiced by Frances McDormand. She keeps the gang in hot pursuit all the way through Rome, London, and New York City. I wish kid’s film didn’t waste so much time with chase scenes and I’m pleased to report that the chase doesn’t take up too much screen time. The essence of this tale is one of survival, show-biz style. Seems the rag-tag circus really is on its last legs and the NYC gang of animals inspires the European animals to remake their show into a Cirque du Soleil-style modern circus to great effect. This story contrasts old-world, tradition-laden Europe with innovative America, and it works just fine.

The script is funny and the supporting cast—I’m looking at you, penguins—offers many laughs. Two scenes of note: Frances as Captain DuBois inspires her men by singing like Edith Piaf, all ending in mascara-stained tears; and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Julien falls in love with Sonya the mini-bicycle riding circus bear. They go on a romantic date in Rome that’s a hoot. Okay—make it three scenes of note: a group of adorable, clothed performing dogs don’t like to be patronized, and these Cockney thugs pull knives and a broken bottle on Marty when he calls them cute.

Love those penguins.
Now here’s the thing: this is a PG movie, but there is nothing particularly offensive, violent, or objectionable here. But oddly enough, this isn’t really a picture for young kids because even though the animation style is accessible and funny, the script is sophisticated and witty in a way that most young kids can’t grasp. My own four-year-old pretty much checked out. What youngster is going to get an Edith Piaf reference, not to mention the references to any number of old movies? This script really saves most of its good stuff for the grown-ups, with teens and tweens getting served second, but that’s not such a bad thing. This makes a perfect “family night at the movies” choice; just leave the pre-schoolers with a sitter this time.

Chris Rock as Marty
This film is very funny; the animation is stunningly beautiful, especially the sequence set in Rome; and it makes a profound statement about not being able to go home again. Didn’t you just know the NYC gang wouldn’t be able to go back to a life of safety and confinement after all they’ve seen? They should run away and join the circus; an afro-circus, that is.


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