(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 9 June, 2012, retrieved from http://newindianexpress.com/entertainment/reviews/article539012.ece)
Voice Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Martin Short, Sacha Baron Cohen, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, Frances McDormand
Directors: Tom McGrath, Eric Darnell, Conrad Vernon
Rating: 4 stars
There’s a lot the Madagascar series could teach an aspiring animation franchise. The third edition may be the best yet, with beautifully coordinated action choreography, enchanting song-and-dance sequences, sparkling repartee, memorable characters, and just enough mush to induce the obligatory “awww!”
The film begins on the assumption that its audience has followed the series. And it should. If you haven’t watched the prequels, get on the job before you catch this one – a lot of the humour is contextual, with delightful references to what we already know about recurring characters.
We meet Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) in the middle of a nightmare in Africa. He’s quickly joined by Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), still stranded, still yearning to return to Central Park Zoo, and still naïve. They try to stave off Alex’s homesickness by making a miniature Manhattan for his birthday, but only succeed in exacerbating his sentiment.
A complicated penguin-and-lemur-orchestrated double-crossing leads the menagerie to Monaco, where a casino robbery goes wrong and turns them into fugitives. Thus begins the story of Europe’s Most Wanted. And in pursuit is a character you will love to hate – the evil-intentioned, voluptuous animal control officer Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), with a passion for singing and obsession with taxidermy. When she isn’t performing ninja stunts, she’s doing Édith Piaf imitations. Her chase, which overcomes hurdles ranging from the wit of the penguins to the inefficiency of the Polizia, takes us all the way from Monaco to Manhattan.
Along the way, we meet a travelling circus, populated by Vitaly the Melancholy Tiger (Bryan Cranston), Gia the sexy leopard (Jessica Chastain), and Stefano the Sea Lion (Martin Short). In a plot twist that is a foil to the impending Alex-Gia romance, King Julien the Lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen) falls in love with Sonya (Frank Welker), the grunting, overweight bear who is most comfortable riding a unicycle in a tutu.
Between awe-inspiring visual effects and the promise of interbred children in Madagascar 4, this one-and-a-half hour long film never lags. It’s carefully scripted, with sharp humour (some of which one just may miss on the first watch), perfect timing, a cast that revels in improvisation, and a screenplay with a sense of the wacky.
Slapstick and irony alternate in a manner that will keep all ages and all intelligences entertained. The comic timing lifts the most mundane of comebacks, while a cast of stand-ups comes up with lines like, “It doesn’t matter what you smelt like before, or I smelt like before, it’s what we smell like together!”
With a botched getaway plan, an improbable plan B, complexes to overcome, soaring libidos, a class division between circus animals and zoo animals, a cruel nemesis, a bad transaction, an Eliza-Doolittle-like dilemma, and plenty of scope for misunderstandings, the plot is skilfully paced.
The Verdict: I would recommend a second watch. A laugh this good is a rare treat.