For better or worse, I did not personally have the joy of experiencing the first two Madagascar movies, so my understanding of exactly what’s going on in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – currently available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from DreamWorks – is somewhat limited. I can describe to you characters, scenes, and events that take place in the film – which features a returning, underappreciated celebrity voice cast including Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, Andy Richter, and Sacha Baron Cohen, plus newcomers Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, and Frances McDormand. What I can’t really do, though, is talk meaningfully about what the movie is actually “about,” in the sense of its emotional core. It basically has a plot, but the characters are so roughly established, and their motivations so transparent and unconvincing most of the time, that the film’s endless parade of energetic hijinks and eye-dazzling animation failed to leave any definitive mark on me.
Picking up where the last Madagascar film apparently left off, Alex the lion (Stiller), Marty the zebra (Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Smith) are stranded in Africa, after a presumably misguided escape from New York City’s Brooklyn Zoo. Unfortunately, the zoo animals’ makeshift airplane has been commandeered by scheming penguins, whose existence I vaguely knew about prior to seeing this movie, due to my experiences living on this planet and breathing. Deciding they miss their old home, the animals resolve to find the penguins and get the airplane back so that they can return to their previous lives of complacent domestication in the United States.
Unfortunately, no sooner have both plane and penguins been recovered than the airplane crashes, leaving the repentant zoo escapees once again stranded, this time in France. With a rogue taxidermist (McDormand) hot on their trail, the zoo animals join up with a team of animal acrobats from a previously world-renowned, but recently gone-to-seed, Russian circus – including Gia (Chastain), Vitaly (Cranston), and Stefano (Martin Short). Hoping to return the circus to its former glory, and thereby secure an American touring contract that will deliver them straight home to New York, the zoo animals fudge their credentials and pretend to be refugees from a circus in America, becoming entwined in an increasingly complex and large-scale deception that ultimately can’t help but backfire on them.
Madagascar 3 definitely offers some fun slapstick moments, as well as some solid one-liners, and animation that I’m begrudgingly forced to admit looks beautiful and amazing. The problem with the movie is that the characterization and plotting are so rushed and slapdash, I didn’t really get a chance to care very much about anything that was going on. The movie might read differently for people already acquainted with the cast of characters, but that’s not really an excuse, just an observation. Emotional conflicts that might have humanized the characters and tied together the action more effectively either weren’t present, or were too muddled to really function. It’s a particularly disappointing oversight considering the film was co-written, bizarrely, by Noah Baumbach, who I know for sure has the ability to write a movie with compelling characters and situations in it, even if his movies are typically pretty different from Madagascar 3. The characters in Madagascar 3 pretty much just appear onscreen, a bunch of stuff happens to them, and then the movie ends.
On the bright side of things (I suppose) the Blu-ray is full of a bunch of silly crap to amuse you once the movie has ended, and thence begun instantaneously and permanently evaporating from your memory. There are the requisite behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews with the cast and animators, some deleted scenes from the film, and a mercifully short “Mad Music Mashup” designed expressly to assure that Chris Rock’s voice singing the “circus afro” song will still be stuck in your head for weeks after you have forgotten the actual movie ever existed. Additionally, Madagascar 3 is available in a very special Rainbow Wig pack, which means it comes with a curly clown wig that will never fit on anyone’s head properly because it’s been vacuum sealed in plastic for six weeks before the Blu-ray was purchased.