Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted | Movie review
Noah Baumbach brings new life to DreamWorks’s animal planet.
Third time’s the charm for the Madagascar series, which until now has epitomized everything lamentable about DreamWorks Animation. Like its soullessly hyperactive predecessors, Europe’s Most Wanted assembles a menagerie of paycheck-cashing celebrities to fire off Shrek-ian pop-culture allusions. If this new adventure doesn’t exactly rewrite the franchise formula, it does refine it. Patient parents who suffered through the last two installments may be relieved to hear that Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg) worked on the screenplay. Chalk up the improved hit-to-miss joke ratio to his involvement.
Part three picks up where part two left off, with Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) still trying to get home to the NYC zoo they fled in part one. After a tension-fraught rendezvous in Monte Carlo, the gang hitches a ride on a circus train, posing as performers to escape the animal-control agents in pursuit. This on-the-lam framework proves a fruitful one, both for the 3-D set pieces it facilitates—a Chuck Jones–worthy car chase is an early highlight—and for the game new supporting players it ushers into the fold. (Among the rookie participants, best in show goes to Frances McDormand’s French detective/poacher, a villain as relentless as the T-1000.) Dated references to the Spice Girls and Nelly keep the enterprise in the sub-Pixar range, but this is the first Madagascar movie that won’t make discerning cartoon buffs want to move-it-move-it to the nearest exit.