The longest road trip home in animated movie history continues with Madagascar: Europe’s Most Wanted, the third chapter in the lucrative and long-running family franchise. Even more than its predecessors, though, this latest story willingly loosens its creative reigns and lets its freak flag fly.
Up to this point, DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar films have been fun, frivolous distractions that were limited by their chosen plot. For two films, we’ve followed the core four characters – Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) – as they struggled to get home to the Central Park Zoo after being mistakenly shipped to Africa in the first film seven years ago. The immediate sequel contained the action to the Dark Continent, where Alex met his parents and Gloria and Melman fell in love.
As you can guess from the subhead, the action in part three shifts to a fresh continent, and that simple decision unshackles the entire series. Longtime director Tom McGrath (who also voices lead penguin Skipper) and his collaborators decide that after two films, multiple holiday specials, a Nickelodeon television series and even a traveling live show, audiences only want to spend time with the familiar characters of this wonky world, and we’re no longer obligated to keep them in Africa. Yes, we loosely cling to the belief that Alex and his crew still want to get home. But now we can drop these recognizable heroes into virtually any plausible situation, and the Madagascar crowd willingly goes along for the ride.
Which is why, with no real explanation necessary, Alex and the animals end up in Monte Carlo for the start of this story. They’re supposed to be meeting up with the penguins. But their antics at a high-priced casino only attract the attentions of Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), a fanatical animal control officer who acts as a bulbous terminator obsessed with capturing Alex to hang his head on her wall.
In an effort to escape, the crew joins – and eventually purchases – a traveling circus that’s led by a delusional sea lion (Martin Short) and a proud tiger (Bryan Cranston). Alex learns that a potential booker wants to bring the circus to New York City. Seeing this as his “only option to get back home” (until the next sequel, that is), our resourceful lion decides to whip the lowly circus into shape and stage the Greatest Show on Earth.
Vibrant and kitschy, Europe’s Most Wanted is busier and noisier than Times Square on New Year’s Eve, not to mention twice as colorful and equally strange. Credit Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote the script, and understand that this works to the film’s advantage. As opposed to sequels that lazily rehash bits established in the previous films, goes in several different directions in search of what’s funny. And it’s often very funny. Watching the sequel at home on my non-3D television, I missed what looked like golden opportunities to exploit the visual trickery, be it Melman’s head and neck extending toward the camera in another hectic (but well choreographed) chase sequence or Marty cannonballing through the air … and into a mountain.
Still, Europe improves over the first two Madagascar movies by taking what fans like about the series and turning it on its ear. I’m beginning to wonder how many more times the brains trust with the franchise can continue to polish the formula. Right now, the potential appears endless.
DreamWorks’ Blu-ray conversion for Madagascar: Europe’s Most Wanted hammers home my personal belief that animation is the finest genre for Blu-ray technologies. The colors are pristine, the animation is crisp and clear. Simply put, you will not find a more gorgeous version of this sequel than on the Blu-ray disc played through a High-Definition television. It’s beautiful.
The extras on the DVD are similarly impressive and incredibly insightful. Under the tab “High Flying Fun,” the Blu-ray exclusives include The Animator’s Corner, which is a picture-in-picture running commentary from the creative team that gives phenomenal insight into almost every scene. In addition to the verbal commentary, the Corner also shows rough-draft sketches and storyboarding for the feature. Turn the Corner off and you can cue up a trivia track for the movie, also a Blu-ray exclusive.
Over under the standard “Special Features,” we get plenty of video of the celebrity cast members recording their voices in the sound booth. Stiller, Rock and newcomers like Cranston and Short also talk about what they’re trying to bring to the franchise this time around. “There’s no such thing as overacting in an animated movie,” Rock says, and I have to agree.
There are three unfinished deleted scenes on the disc, a “Mad Music Mash-Up” music video, and Ringmasters, which follows the three Madagascar directors for 24 hours as they work behind the scenes to bring Madagascar to fruition. Those looking for traditional interviews will find it in an exclusive Madagascar 3 Roundtable with the four main actors reflecting on the series and a feature-length filmmaker’s commentary. Finally, the Blu-ray pack comes with a traditional DVD, a digital copy of the film, an ultraviolet copy for instant streaming, and a kid-sized rainbow wig. Polka dot, polka dot, afro!