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Madagascar 3 is high-energy chaos. It’s more than two hours worth of material crammed into a measly eighty-five minutes. It doesn’t stop for breaths or pause to consider the physics of its stunts. It just goes and goes and goes, blending word gags, sight gags, physical comedy and strange accents until the final credits suddenly role. There’s little time for larger messages or subtlety on this train frantically hurtling through and destroying Europe, but then again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
A film needs to know its goals. It needs to decide such things ahead of time and let the mission dictate what it includes and what it leaves on the cutting room floor. If nothing else Europe’s Most Wanted has a very good idea of itself. It chooses to destroy cars rather than analyze the chemistry between Melman and Gloria. It chooses dancing over walking, bloviating over pondering and color over realism. For two long stretches, the film looks like Guy Fawkes set off barrels of dynamite during a race on Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road level, and somehow, it feels entirely in keeping with Madagascar 3’s vision of zany, rampageous fun.
That fun starts exactly where the second film left off. Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) are hanging out in Africa convinced the stupid penguins will never return from their gambling scheme in Monte Carlo. They’re probably right. Dressing the chimps up as the Prince of Versailles, they’ve won millions at the casino and aren’t excited about leaving. Without options, our heroes make their way to Monte Carlo to hitch a ride back to New York. Naturally, it doesn’t go as planned, and after a few chases that destroy dozens of vehicles, buildings and, through cause-and-effect, insurance companies, Alex and friends buy a fledgling circus as their ticket back to America and a way to avoid the merciless animal control officer Chantel Dubois (Frances McDormand).
Within the colorful tent, the film introduces a slew of new characters, most importantly Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), a bitter Russian tiger, Gia (Jessica Chastain), a trapeze-loving jaguar and Stefano (Martin Short), an Italian sea lion who desperately wants to be of average intelligence. Together, they all work to transform the act into an event worth booking. In the process, they, of course, forge bonds, learn things about each other and because it’s Madagascar, dance.
None of it is particularly awesome or memorable, but because it’s jammed in quick succession, it’s watchable and entertaining. In many ways, it’s like a real circus. There’s a reason why the animals pick up and leave after a few weeks. I don’t know anyone who wants to watch elephants stand on their hand legs and hear a ringmaster shout weekly or even monthly, but as a meaningless, now-and-again spectacle, it’s a good idea. Thus will be the legacy of Madagascar 3, a chaotic, enjoyable hour-and-a-half that’s endearing enough not to be avoided on purpose.
On paper, it should have been far worse, but with above average voice work, crazy, vibrant visuals and a determination to be the life of the party, Europe’s Most Wanted kind of works. I wouldn’t go out of my way to ever watch it again, but if you pushed me and there were good snacks around, I wouldn’t complain.