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Madagascar 3 Europe's most wanted may be the best of the bunch

7 June 2012, Thursday /MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN
The increasingly tenuous connection of each successive “Madagascar” movie to the franchise’s original premise -- homesick New York zoo animals at large in a scary world -- is stretched pretty thin in “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” And that is a very good thing.

A very, very good thing. The third outing in the popular series of animated adventures about Alex the lion (voice of Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) may be the best of the bunch, simply because it busts the leash that tethers it to anything resembling reality.

The level of divine lunacy it aspires to is signaled early on. In an effort to escape from Monaco -- where our heroes have travelled from Africa in search of the airplane that they hope will take them home -- an order is given to shake the Monte Carlo animal control officer who is determined to stop them from leaving: “Deploy banana gun.”

That the order is issued by a talking penguin, to a mute chimpanzee, is funny enough. But the fact that the animal control officer is played by Frances McDormand, doing a deliciously silly French accent, and that her character then engages in a slo-mo series of “Matrix”-style, bullet-time banana-dodging is absolutely sublime.

And it only goes uphill from there. “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” may be the best use of 3D animation we’ve seen since “Up.” Structured around a prolonged yet picturesque chase that takes Alex and company from Monaco to France to Italy to England -- all the while pursued by McDormand’s Inspector-Javert-like Captain DuBois -- it’s a story that lends itself naturally to the visual-enhancement technology.

It doesn’t hurt that most of the action takes place in a travelling circus, where the fugitives decide to hide out from DuBois. The antics of a hoop-jumping tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), Gia the aerialist leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the sea-lion cannonball (Martin Short) contribute mightily to sequences of amazing animation, some in eye-popping neon, that rival those of Disney’s 1940 classic “Fantasia.”

Yes, it’s that good.

The film is also pretty hilarious, thanks mainly to DuBois’ character, who, like an angry Energizer bunny, just keeps going and going and going. A lot of the credit must also go to veteran “Madagascar” screenwriter Eric Darnell, who is here joined by writer Noah Baumbach (“The Fantastic Mr. Fox”). Their script isn’t just funny, it’s fun.

A parade of laughs? That, you expect. What’s really surprising about “Madagascar 3” is just how moving it also ultimately is, due largely to the emotionally engaging character animation. A tricycle-riding bear named Sonya -- who never speaks, just growls plaintively -- is a case in point. Her unlikely romance with Sacha Baron Cohen’s Julien the lemur king (of course, he’s back) is actually kind of... sweet.

So is the movie. It’s a kid’s Cirque de Soleil, for a lot less money. © The Washington Post 2012

‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted 3D’  

Directed by: Eric Darnell   

Genre: animated

Voice Cast: Ben Stiller, Frances McDormand, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jada Pinkett Smith, Andy Richter, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre Benjamin

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