After the American vehicles went somewhat off-track overseas in Cars 2, the New York zoo animals go a bit bonkers on a trek through the Continent in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. Not only extra-dimensional but extra-loud, extra-antic and extra-frenetic, this latest addition to what is already a billion-dollar franchise won’t see its diminished charm and humor too drastically impact its built-in money-making capabilities. The Paramount release from DreamWorks Animation received a Friday noontime world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
Dubiously desiring to return to their New York City zoo origins after their escapades in the wild in Madagascar and Africa, lion Alex (Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) pick up where they left off at the end of the second installment in 2008 by pursuing the fleeing monkeys and penguins to Monte Carlo, where the havoc the animal interlopers wreak on the principality provokes the ire of a relentless animal control cop, Captain Chantel DuBois. Pointy-nosed, cannon-breasted, broad-butted, capable of following a scent like a bloodhound and moving like a spider, DuBois is one of two captivating new creations in this chapter, a deliciously demented adversary who’s been lip-smackingly voiced with a French accent by Frances McDormand.
The other fresh character with an entirely different sort of appeal is Gia, a slinky Italian jaguar who enters the picture as part of a traveling circus the American gang joins as a cover for their journey through Europe. Gia, purringly voiced by Jessica Chastain, is a natural, and inherently provocative, romantic foil for the bashful Alex, and is rendered very appealingly in the gentle coloration of her coat and her physical manner.
Although the Russian tiger boss (Bryan Cranston) of the circus remains dubious about the Yankee interlopers, the train proceeds to Rome, the Alps and London, where the troupe puts on a spectacular laser-dominated show backed by Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” involving a lot of vertiginous high-diving and trapeze stunts that put the 3D to full use. The cavernous space criss-crossed by shafts of multi-colored light reminds of nothing so much as the futuristic motor speedway in Tron with a bit of Speed Racer thrown in.
Once back at the Central Park Zoo, the returning Americans begin to question their decision to return, wondering if the adventures they’ve had haven’t given them full lives they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. But then who should reappear but DuBois, entirely out of her jurisdiction but determined to eradicate, once and for all, the pesky varmints that have given her so much trouble.
Madagascar 3 is colorful, moves like the TGV rather than the slow zoo train on view and is over in a flash. But it’s dominated by the characters shouting over one another, repetitively reacting with alarm to anything that happens and overcompensating for largely unfunny material by overacting by about 300 percent. Yes, it’s a cartoon, but it’s conspicuously unmodulated, with the volume set on high and the pacing all but pushed to fast-forward.
Few traces of the wit and sophistication co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach helped bring to Fantastic Mr. Fox can be detected here. The other writer, Eric Darnell, was again joined as director by Tom McGrath, as well, for the first time, by Conrad Vernon, who worked on the first two installments as a creative consultant and voice actor and also directed Shrek 2 and Monsters vs. Aliens.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Opens: Friday, June 8 (Paramount)
Production: DreamWorks Animation
Voice cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Paz Vega
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
Screenwriters: Eric Darnell, Noah Baumbach
Producers: Mireille Soria, Mark Swift
Production designer: Fletcher Cronkite-Schindlin
Visual consultant: Guillermo Navarro
Editor: Nick Fletcher
Music: Hans Zimmer
PG rating, 85 minutes