So it's a great pleasure to report that "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" is a wonderfully goofy film, a manic comedy that has as many jokes per minute as a golden-period "Simpsons" episode.
Remember the escaped zoo animals from the first "Madagascar"? They've been wandering through Africa, but in the new film (without any time wasted explaining exactly how this happens), they pop up on the Riviera.
In Europe, they will be chased by a mystifyingly hostile animal-control officer (voiced with Clouseau-like flair by Frances McDormand) and forced to join the circus. Well, why not the circus? Especially if the animals take the reins of exploitation from their human oppressors and buy the circus themselves.
Power to the animals. And a fun excuse for some new characters, including a tiger (Bryan Cranston) with confidence issues and a sea lion (Martin Short) with slightly below-average intelligence.
The original characters are present, of course: Ben Stiller's lion, Chris Rock's zebra, David Schwimmer's giraffe and Jada Pinkett Smith's hippo. Except for Chris Rock, whose vocal performance is absolutely unhinged, it's hard for this group to keep up with the scene-stealing antics of those other returning characters, a lemur named King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and a conniving penguin named Skipper (co-director -- and Edmonds native -- Tom McGrath).
King Julien develops a crush on a circus bear, which raises all kinds of issues of weight displacement. And those penguins -- well, if you don't love the penguins, I guess you're in the wrong movie theater, or possibly the wrong planet.
Most of the team that produced the first two films is intact, with the addition of Noah Baumbach as co-writer. Hiring the director of "Greenberg" (which starred Ben Stiller) sounds like an odd fit, but obviously something clicked.
The film (in 3-D in some theaters) is full of impossible physical stunts, like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There's something about a sea lion shot out of a cannon and going SPLAT against the side of a mountain, and then bouncing back for another try, that rings true for the animated world.
The indestructibility of the Avengers is dubious by comparison.
As crazy as the movie is, it demonstrates an important comedy principle. When we laugh at something the lemur or the penguin says, it's because (a) the line is funny, and (b) that's exactly what the lemur or penguin would say. We know them. Comedy is built on character, and "Madagascar 3" has some beauties.
"Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" (3½ stars)
A manic comedy with a high laughs-per-minute ratio, as the escaped zoo animals reach the shores of Europe, where they join a circus and flee the reach of a hostile animal-control officer. This is a genuinely funny movie, with great stuff for the world's funniest penguin and lemur.
Rated: PG, for subject matter
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Edmonds, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Olympic, Stanwood, Meridian, Thorton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.
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