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After two forgettable takes, MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED gets a lot of things right

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

I don't really contemplate the MADAGASCAR movies in my spare time. Hard to believe, I know. But even when I'm thinking about my favorite animated movies in the last 10 years, or the best that computer-generated animation has given us lately, this lightweight franchise doesn't enter into the conversation. The stories always seemed overly simplistic and focused more on being broad and silly than creative (an animated film for kids can actually be all of those things in the right combination).

So, you can probably imagine the level of excitement that filled my soul when I sat down for the third MADAGASCAR chapter with the wildly original title EUROPE'S MOST WANTED. The good news is that my faux enthusiasm turned into genuine enjoyment during the course of this fun little ditty that seemed intent on throwing caution to the wind and giving audiences something so outlandish as to provide a whole lot of laughs mixed with a healthy dose of a slightly more grown-up story.

As in the last film, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are still trying to return to the Central Park Zoo from their other-side-of-the-world adventures in the first two films. I still love the randomness of their pal King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), a lemur who has clearly been doing too many drugs. Cohen infuses Julien with such a playful spirit and subtle adult humor that he wins every time he opens his mouth. But the real surprise is the Stiller and Rock finally step up the comedy in EUROPE'S MOST WANTED. I never thought either were particularly funny in the first two, but they both get off some great lines here.

The film's other nice new element are the addition of four new characters. The plot forces our heroes to join a traveling circus going by rail through Europe, and we are introduced to the tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), a jaguar named Gia (Jessica Chastain) and a bizarre sea lion Sefanto (Martin Short). All of the animals are being pursued by nasty animal control officer Dubois of Monte Carlo, played by Frances McDormand, whose character seems more interested in mounting heads than protecting the public. There's something about her that screams '40s villainess that I was particularly drawn to, while the three new animals have much greater sob stories about life in the circus than our heroes, making them far more sympathetic.

Look, I'm not trying to sell MADAGASCAR 3 as any kind of great achievement in either animation or storytelling, but after two sub-par films, it seems the filmmakers finally got a few more things right. Perhaps some of that has to do with the script, co-written by Noah Baumbach (who directed Stiller in one of his best roles to date in Greenberg) and Eric Darnell (who is one of the credited directors on the film). Who knows.

All I know is that the movie made me laugh a lot more than the first two, and I found the new characters interesting to a degree, especially compared to the main four leads. Weirdly, the films seem to be getting better as they add to the franchise. That certainly bodes well if they decide to make a fourth. If you are someone who is often put in charge of taking youngsters to the movies during the summer months, you could do a whole lot worse than MADAGASCAR 3.

-- Steve Prokopy
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