Wednesday, November 14, 2012

DVD Review: Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Directed by: Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath & Conrad Vernon.
Written by: Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach.
Starring: Ben Stiller (Alex), Chris Rock (Marty), David Schwimmer (Melman), Jada Pinkett Smith (Gloria), Sacha Baron Cohen (Julien), Cedric the Entertainer (Maurice), Andy Richter (Mort), Tom McGrath (Skipper / First Policeman), Frances McDormand (Captain Chantel DuBois), Jessica Chastain (Gia), Bryan Cranston (Vitaly), Martin Short (Stefano), Chris Miller (Kowalski), Christopher Knights (Private), Conrad Vernon (Mason / Second Policeman), Vinnie Jones (Freddie the Dog), Steve Jones (Jonesy the Dog), Nick Fletcher (Frankie the Dog), Paz Vega (Horses).

The two best moments in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted are the only two moments in the movie that actually slows the pace down at all, and doesn’t try to give you sensory overload with a non-stop blast of color, and dialogue spewed so fast between the characters you can never quite tell what is supposed to be funny and what isn’t. The first of these moments happens right at the beginning, when Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) has a nightmare than the penguins he, and his group of friends from the Central Park Zoo still trapped in Africa, have put all their faith into will never come back and rescue them. He envisions growing old in Africa, and having an empty life. The moment is heartfelt, and may even resonate with some older members of the audience. The second moment comes late in the movie, when the animals finally arrive back in Central Park, and realizes they don’t really want to be there anymore – now that they have seen the world, the Zoo just doesn’t offer them the same rewards. You really cannot go home again.

If Madagascar 3 had more moments like that, then the movie could have been something a lot more than what it is – a diversion for kids, who will undoubtedly enjoy the non-stop barrage of action and color, but pretty tedious for the adults in the crowd. Madagascar 3 seems to want to do as much as possible as quickly as possible – so by the end of the film’s not quite 90 minute running time, after countless chase sequences and dazzling high wire circus acts, that foregoes any connection with even the slightest bit of reality, I was exhausted. The damn movie never lets up for a second.

The basic plot concerns Alex and his friends wanting to get out of Africa, and back to the Central Park Zoo. They have been waiting for months for the penguins to return from Monte Carlo with their winnings, which will get them home – so long that they decide not to wait anymore and just head there themselves. They get there, surprisingly quickly, and then almost immediately are spotted by the cruel animal control captain Chantel DuBois, who wants Alex’s head for her wall. They pull off an improbable escape, and end up on a train full of circus animals, heading to Rome and then London – where a big time American circus promoter will be in attendance, and if they do well, they’ll all be headed for America! But of course, the circus is a joke, and it’s up to Alex and his friends to give these once great circus animals their confidence back – and dodge DuBois, who will not denied her lion head, even though she clearly has no jurisdiction most of the places she goes to.

Surprisingly, the screenplay was co-written by Noah Baumbach – who normally makes his own indie movies like Greenberg, Margot at the Wedding, The Squid and the Whale or combines efforts with Wes Anderson on screenplays like The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I can only imagine that Baumbach wrote this one for the money, because there is nothing in this movie that has his normal wit or emotional underpinnings. The dialogue in this movie is worse than the other two Madagascar movies – hardly great to begin with – and favors a lot of rapid fire jokes, than occasionally make you chuckle, but mainly inspires groans.

There is a reason why Pixar movies are more critically acclaimed than most animated films aimed at children – and that’s because Pixar (normally) spends as much perfecting the screenplay as it does with its brilliant animation – and because Pixar doesn’t treat audiences like their idiots. A movie like Madagascar 3 simply wants to be a feast for the eyes – some brightly colored crap to amuse kids for a little while. On that level, I guess, the movie succeeds. Kids obviously like the movie. But for adults looking for something for them will simply end up bored by the movie.

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