Madagascar 3 (United States, 2012)

June 06, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Madagascar 3 Poster

Madagascar 3 raises an interesting question about what movie-goers want from animated films: intelligent, thoughtful productions that use artwork, rather than live-action, to tell a story, or colorful crap that can be used to distract children for about 90 minutes. Madagascar 3, much like its predecessors, is a perfect example of the latter. It has value only as a way to engage a very young viewer until his or her attention span expires. For many adults, sitting through this will be an exercise in tedium. It offers about as much as an oversized, overlong Saturday morning cartoon and if that's where expectations are set, it probably won't disappoint. Talk about setting the bar low, though.

The animal characters in the Madagascar series - Alex the Lion (voice of Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) - are classic examples of "grass is always greener" types. They're never satisfied with where they are. In this case, they have decided they're bored with Africa and want to return to the Central Park Zoo in New York, which they affectionately call "home." Getting there proves to be a bit of a challenge, however, requring stop-overs in Monte Carlo, Rome, and London. Along the way, they make an enemy of French Animal Control officer Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand), who wants nothing more than to mount a lion's head on her wall. They join the circus, where they are welcomed with warmth by Stefano the Seal (Martin Short), wariness by Gia the Jaguar (Jessica Chastain), and hostility by Vitaly the Tiger (Bryan Cranston). Eventually, they all learn to work together to catch the attention of a U.S. promoter who will fund their trip across the Atlantic.

The movie looks nice, but so what? Crisp, detailed, well-rendered images are used in service of a plot that could have been scribbled on a few sheets of toilet paper by a ten-year old. We get the usual lessons about friendship and tolerance that animated movies love to serve up. There's plenty of hum-drum action and a flashy acrobatic sequence done to the tune of Katy Perry's "Firework." That segment makes no sense whatsoever, but it's got a lot of pretty colors, choreographed action, and a familiar song. Kids will eat it up and when it shows up on You Tube, it will get 100,000,000 views.

The Madagascar series has never been one of my favorites. In the first film, the premise was thin and the charm of the characters dubious. The sequel convinced me that the filmmakers should have stopped after installment #1 but, like Shrek, Dreamworks will run this one into the ground until there's no more money to be made. Are we supposed to like these characters and enjoy their dubious antics? The Pink Panther TV cartoons have better realized anthropomorphized animals and more clever storylines, and they're about six minutes long.

There's nothing to add to what I have previously written about the voice work. Ben Stiller and David Schwimmer sound effectively anonymous. Chris Rock has the most energy. Jada Pinkett Smith isn't given much to do. Without checking a cast list, I wouldn't have recognized any of the newcomers - Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain, Martin Short, and Bryan Cranston - but that's a good thing. In an animated setting, when you don't recognize a voice, you're more open to the character and your immersion isn't impeded by other associations.

This includes the most obviously gimmicky use of 3-D to have come along recently. The 3-D isn't "bad" in the sense that it's blurry or dim or cheap looking. In fact, it appears to have been rendered with some degree of care. However, it's pointless. It exists primarily so kids can squeal with excitement as things fly at them from the screen. There is no legitimate reason why anyone should pay anything extra for the benefit of watching Madagascar 3 in 3-D.

It's sad to see all the technical expertise evident in the visual aspects of this movie wasted in service of such a derivative and fundamentally unsatisfying experience. Madagascar 3 will probably do well at the box office because its release date has been beautifully timed. It's the first legitimate "family film" since Pirates! Band of Misfits and it opens around the time when the school year is winding down. Added to that, it's only direct competition, Disney/Pixar's Brave, is still a couple of weeks away. When it comes to kids, don't underestimate the appeal of a familiar label and cute animals. Despite the occasional half-hearted innuendo, Madagascar 3 is not intended for adults. This is a child-focused product that will be devoured with the same mix of glee and disdain reserved for disposable commodities.

Madagascar 3 (United States, 2012)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2012-06-08
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1