Three is the charm for DreamWorks Animation's entertaining installment of their popular Madagascar franchise. In fact, Europe's Most Wanted is so full of laughs and great characters, it's easily the best in the series. Like Toy Story 3, the Madagascar gang just gets better with time, and this new adventure is funny, exciting and heartwarming. Opening where the second left off with the zoo gang stuck in Africa, the sequel quickly transports them to the south of France where they concoct a plan to find their way back to New York by taking jobs with a traveling circus. With one of the best voice casts of any animated film and some terrific new additions, the filmmakers have re-energized the whole enterprise and should reap a major box office reward upon opening June 8. The film is world premiering as part of the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, entirely appropriate since much of it takes place right down the coast in Monte Carlo.
Beasts Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) are looking for a way out of Africa and back to their New York Zoo. But first, they want to catch up with the crafty penguins who deserted them and are now major players in Monte Carlo. In a hilariously staged slapstick sequence inside a casino, they run into trouble with the law, particularly animal-hating gendarme Captain Chantal DuBois (Frances McDormand) who is determined to stop them at all costs. Stowing away on a traveling circus train, the zoo animals struggle to befriend the performers, including an Italian sea lion named Stefano (Martin Short), a beautiful Italian Jaguar named Gia (Jessica Chastain) and the troupe's de facto leader, a frustrated tiger named Vitale (Bryan Cranston). Making their way to Rome, they weasel their way into the Circus spotlight but complications arise when DuBois gets wind of their whereabouts.
Merging the Madagascar brand into a traveling circus is an ingenious device that suits the tone of the series perfectly. It also gives directors Eric Darnell, Conrad Vernon and Tom McGrath and Darnell and co-writer Noah Baumbach (director of the aptly named indie The Squid and the Whale) a way to introduce a whole new group of animals to carry the action forward. Cranston, Short and Chastain each develop appealing and wonderfully well-rounded new characters that add novelty to the well-travelled premise. McDormand makes a great villain and, of course, the regular gang led by Stiller and Rock continue to shine in roles that fit them like a rhinestone collar. And Sacha Baron Cohen's King Julian is a hoot as he romances the sensitive circus bear.
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is a most welcome addition to summer and a great addition to a moneymaking franchise that seems as good as new.
Distributor: DreamWorks Animation/Paramount
Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Martin Short, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, Frances McDormand, Andy Richter, Cedric The Entertainer, Sacha Baron Cohen.
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
Screenwriters: Eric Darnell, Noah Baumbach
Producers: Mireille Soria, Mark Swift
Rating: PG for mild action and rude humor
Running Time: TBD
Release Date: June 8, 2012