Europe's Most Wanted
- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © DreamWorks Animation
Reviewed by David Medsker
culture change is clearly taking place at DreamWorks Animation. After spending years making films that made lots of money but had no soul, the studio slowly but surely began making smarter films and, for the first time ever, one of their films outclassed a Pixar movie released in the same year (“Kung Fu Panda 2” vs. “Cars 2”). The first two films in the “Madagascar” franchise were definitely products of the old regime; there was lots of busyness, but little to sink one’s teeth into. When grown-ups dismiss animated films as kid’s movies, it’s movies like “Madagascar” and its sequel that they’re referring to.
Which is what makes “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” such a pleasant surprise. For starters, the movie is batshit crazy, giving Sacha Baron Cohen’s King Julien XIII a most unlikely love interest, while villainess Captain Chantel DuBois (a very funny Frances McDormand) runs through walls a la Juggernaut in “X-Men: The Last Stand,” then later sings a 50-year-old French torch song. They may have attempted the “X-Men” move in the first two films, but they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing the torch song. It is this willingness to let it all hang out that makes the movie so intoxicating.
The story begins in Africa, where the sociopathic penguins have fixed their makeshift airplane and left the other animals behind to go gambling in Monte Carlo. Desperate for some way to get back to New York, and convinced the penguins are their only option, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) decide to crash the penguins’ party and travel to Monte Carlo to meet up with them. This is the part where your brain is saying, “But that is thousands upon thousands of miles away. How on earth could they do such a thing?” And your brain is not wrong – but let it go, if you can. Otherwise, feel free to stop reading, because nothing that follows will make sense, either.
After the animals cause a scene in a casino, they draw the attention of the aforementioned DuBois, a zealous animal control officer who’s looking to mount Alex’s head on her wall. The gang runs across a group of circus animals on their way out of town, and Alex tells them they’re performers as well in the hopes that they will take Alex and his friends in so Alex can escape DuBois’ clutches. As Alex gets to know his new friends, he becomes determined to make their admittedly bad show better, but realizes that keeping up his fake back story will be harder than he thought.
The directors (there are three of them) have a lot to juggle here, but somehow they manage to give all of the supporting characters a fair amount of screen time. The ‘B’ story that will make or break the movie for most people, though, is King Julien’s love affair with the miniature bicycle-riding bear (you read that right). It is so ridiculous that it becomes sublime, though some – many, we’d concede – may never get past the ridiculous aspect of it. Likewise, DuBois is pretty odd herself, a cross between a Terminator and a bloodhound. Like we said, this movie is wonderfully weird, with the emphasis on ‘weird.’
And where there is weird, there is warped logic, or at least the need to get to the next set piece with as little resistance as possible (and those set pieces, especially the last two circus routines, are stunning). “Madagascar 3” is the kind of movie that will take a breath for 10 minutes in order to seize the moment, then rush to the next city or scene while turning a blind eye to the fact that, say, the animals in this circus are on their own…on a train. (Some of these issues are addressed in the movie, but not really.) To their credit, this is one of the few 3D movies released during this silly 3D renaissance that is worth seeing in 3D. There are a couple of gimmicky shots, but they mostly go the depth-of-canvas route, and it produces some incredible visuals.
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is going to leave a few people scratching their heads, but from our perspective, this is a good thing. It means DreamWorks Animation is no longer taking the easy way out, and they are finally willing to challenge the audience. We saw the seeds of this as early as 2006’s “Over the Hedge,” and now it seems to have become standard operating procedure. Hallelujah.
Three-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The bonus features for animated films tend to be underwhelming because of the structured nature of their assembly and production, but "Madagascar 3" has some great bits, namely the featurette with the voice actors discussing the process (sadly, Sacha Baron Cohen and Frances McDormand are absent) and the deleted scene where we see McDormand's Dubois character beat the snot out of a "death adder" (not a real snake) in order to use its venom for the dart that she planned to use to kill Alex the lion. Even in its crudest, story board state, that scene was comedy gold.
There is an audio commentary with the three directors, and a picture-in-picture option where you can see them discuss the process of putting the film together. There is a roundtable with the four "zoosters" (Stiller, Rock, Schwimmer, Pinkett-Smith) where they discuss the growth of the characters over the course of the three films, and a bit where we follow the directors through a day in the life of making an animated movie. There is also a game where people need to shoot animals into their respective train cars out of a cannon, and as Blu-ray games go, it's not bad, but they're never really good, either.
Overall, the bonus features are good stuff, but whatever you do, do not buy this solely for the Marty rainbow wig. The wig we received was a far cry from what they're promoting. It's a nice idea, but the real thing doesn't have the same volume, let's put it that way.