The gang from the first two Madagascar movies find adventure – and love – as they hop a circus train to elude a crazed animal control officer and try to get home – in really effective 3D.
When we last saw our bedraggled gang of escapees from the New York Zoo, they were still in Africa but hopeful the penguins could jury rig an airplane and get them home. Europe’s Most Wanted opens with said penguins leaving them in the lurch for a vacation in Monte Carlo, forcing them to find their own way to Monte Carlo.
Their hope that they can persuade the penguins to help them is a forlorn one because they run afoul of Captain Chantal DuBois (Frances McDormand) of Animal Control. On the run, they hitch a ride on a circus train – despite a complete lack of enthusiasm from the circus’ Russian tiger, Vitaly (Bryan Cranston).
Led by the wannabe heroic Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), the gang tries to convince the circus animals – Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain), Stefano the seal (Martin Short) and Sonya the bear (Frank Welker) – that they’re circus animals, too.
Basically, the plot is simply getting the gang from Africa to New York. What makes the movie work is that the cast is extremely good, the animation and 3D are near Pixar quality and the relationships are a match for the film’s deliriously extravagant action set pieces. Also, Captain DuBois is a wonderful villain (plus, where else could you hear a Jacques Brel song in an animated movie).
Although they left the gang in the lurch, when it’s crunch time, you can count on the penguins – Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights) and Rico – to come to the rescue with some bizarre plan or contraption. King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), along with his personal servants Maurice (Cedric The Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) are also along for the ride, strewing chaos wherever they go. And Julien finds his one true love, to boot!
With two writers, Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach, and three directors – Eric Darnell, tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon, you might expect Europe’s Most Wanted to be a case of too many cooks, but instead, it’s a high-energy romp that features lots of action, lots of thrills, a bit of romance and a sneaky intelligence that provides as many laughs for the grown-ups as for the kids.
And did I mention the 3D is really good (especially in the superb circus and rescue sequences that constitute the third act)? Well it is.
Final Grade: A-
Photos courtesy DreamWorks Animation