Sunday, 9 September 2012


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

Moving at a crack-a-lackin' pace, and in defiance of the rules of logic and physics – and all the better for it – Europe's Most Wanted is the most madcap adventure thus far in DreamWorks' Madagascar franchise, and the perfect swan song for Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) should this indeed be the final film for the Central Park Zoo four.

Within the opening five minutes we've witnessed a nightmare and a flashback (both by Stiller's Alex), before our heroes, desperate to return to their native New York, surface off the coast of Monte Carlo, presumably having swum there from Africa.

They've come to the European principality to locate the penguins and the chimps who left them behind in Africa when they headed off in a makeshift aeroplane with the promise of returning with rescue. The penguins and chimps have been living large in one of the city's casinos (raising funds for their return to Africa), but once the gang discovers them mayhem ensues.

This brings Alex and the gang (including lemur King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his cohorts) to the attention of Animal Control Captain, Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), a woman who once she has the scent is like a dog with a bone. Or more accurately, like Robert Patrick's T-1000 cyborg in Terminator 2: unstoppable, unflappable (and as defiant of physics as the animals) and with one goal in mind – to mount Alex the lion's head on her trophy wall.

The gang manage to elude capture by DuBois, if not her pursuit, jumping a circus train headed for Rome. They buy out the human owners and plan to win the attention of a visiting American promoter who will whisk them all back to New York, but first Alex has to convince the circus – a one-time success but now a down-on-its-luck operation – that they can recapture their former glory.

Gia (Jessica Chastain), the acrobatic jaguar, and Stefano, the sea lion cannonball (a wonderful Martin Short channelling Roberto Benigni), are ready to embrace the ways of Circus Americano but Vitaly, the Russian tiger (a surly Bryan Cranston), haunted by his own failures involving a flaming ring and olive oil, isn't so easily convinced.

In a time where animated films have become serious business, both at the box office and with critics and awards bodies (no longer assigned to the kids' table and allowed to compete for Best Picture at the Oscars), Madagascar 3 is a reminder that they can also be pure, unadulterated fun.

Directors Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon, and Eric Darnell, who penned the screenplay with Noah Baumbach (writer-director of such indie fare as The Squid and the Whale (2005), and Margot at the Wedding (2007), but who also co-penned 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox), seem to have not only remembered that animation is merely a grown-up term for cartoon, but have embraced the freedom and lunacy that comes with that realisation.

Thematically, Madagascar 3, like its predecessors, is about family being what you make of it and home being where the heart is but not in a sickly sentimental way. Besides there's no time for saccharine, what with car chases, fireworks, jet packs and "balloons for the children of the world", there's barely time to catch one's breath let alone to shed a tear.

And if this is to be the last Madagascar film (there has been no official word on that), then it's a solid, highly entertaining third act for the franchise. Roll up, roll up, come one and all. Leave logic at the big top entrance and enjoy Europe's Most Wanted, Americano-style.

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