I was not looking forward to Madagascar 3. While I definitely enjoyed the first two, this seemed like the downfall, the same spiral down that Shrek the Third hit. So it’s rather surprising when I found out that, yes, this really is the best one yet.
Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria (Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett Smith) are still in Africa after the second movie and still wanting to get back to New York City. With the penguins having apparently abandoned them, the gang heads to Monte Carlo to try and find them. Thanks to a series of events, they end up being pursued by animal control captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) and hiding with a troupe of circus animals featuring Gia, Vitaly and Stefano (Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, and Martin Short).
Yes, there are a lot of characters here, especially when you include the fact that side characters like the penguins and King Julien are still around and still have their own sub-plots. And yet surprisingly, the movie doesn’t feel bloated. They’ve balanced the characters well. The penguins still get some great scenes, but they never become the stars of the movie. That’s what makes them work so well. Likewise, Melman and Gloria may not get as much screentime as Marty and Alex, but their moments work well enough and it just shows that the writers knew which characters to focus on more, especially since this can be seen as the real conclusion of Alex’s character arc that’s been going on since the first movie. The new characters are also done well. In particular, DuBois is almost like a French Cruella De Vil played up to eleven.
Which, really, everything in this movie is done to. It definitely seems like there’s two sides of the Dreamworks coin nowadays: the real heart that makes movies like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda, and the part that wants to do nothing but make the audience laugh. Madagascar is definitely embracing the latter one. Oh, sure, they throw in a few token emotional moments, but the movie is so good because of its comedy setpieces. The early chase through Monte Carlo goes about as far past reality and physics as it can go, and then goes a bit further. The jokes approach rapid-fire comedy level at times, going by so fast that you’re probably going to miss half of them just from laughing at the other half. Vitaly comments on his act at one point that “People enjoy the ridiculous” and that seems to be the same philosophy the movie is made under. Screw realism, go for whatever’s funniest.
Madagascar is showing that it’s still got a reason to exist. It’s full of Looney-Tunes-esque comedy, great setpieces, and just a feeling of fun. For a movie that didn’t impress me with its early trailers, it might mark itself as one of the summer’s must-sees.