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Blu-ray Review: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

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One tends to expect less of sequels than originals.  There is, generally speaking, a decline in a film series as it continues.  Not every film franchise follows this rule however.  Case in point, Madagascar 3:  Europe’s Most Wanted.  Directed by series vets Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath as well as series newcomer (at least in this role) Conrad Vernon, Madagascar 3 is an absurd, wonderful movie.  The logic is marvelously flawed (it is acknowledged in the film), but once you have penguins who can fly a plane and drive a car, what really is your basis for logic anyway?

At the outset of the film, we find our animal heroes—Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer), and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith)—still trying to make their way back to the Central Park Zoo.  They would take the penguins’ plane, but the penguins haven’t yet made it back from their trip to Monte Carlo.  As they do need the penguins and the plane, Alex and company opt to make the trip from Africa to Monte Carlo – don’t worry about how that gets done, the movie doesn’t (and facts are truly unimportant), it just happens.

For reasons to ridiculous to recount, in Monte Carlo the animals run afoul of Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), who would like nothing more than to mount Alex’s head on her trophy wall.  Naturally, the animals end up hitching a ride on a train with circus animals and lying about who they are.  The circus is in shambles, no one has their heart in their work anymore, and it’s up to Alex and company to put it right.

Honestly, I don’t know why you’re asking for specifics about plot points here – don’t worry about them.   Here is what you truly need to know – over the course of its 90-plus minutes, the movie never stops to take its breath.  The film doesn’t care whether it’s circus acrobatics, banana guns, or car chases through Monte Carlo, Madagascar 3 just keeps going. 

The true success of the film is not just the fact that it’s able to keep plowing ahead for its entire length (to be sure, a feat in and of itself), it’s the fact that so many of the jokes land.  It won’t amuse the most stodgy and dour of adults, but anyone just short of that degree of stodginess (and dourness) will be hard-pressed to not laugh at least once.  Honestly, watch the movie and see if Chris Rock’s afro circus song doesn’t play in your head just a few times before you sack out for the night.

Some will point to Madagascar 3 and say that the series truly has a heart and soul, that it’s able to anthropomorphize the animals in brilliant ways, and not just the ones we’ve met before.  Those individuals would be correct.  One of the main plotlines this time out deals with the circus tiger, Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), who has lost the love of performing he once had.  Vitaly, at one point in time, could coat himself in olive oil and jump through a hoop the size of a wedding band (I told you not to worry about logic, right?).  A portion of the film deals with Alex helping the circus animals in general, and Vitaly in particular, return to top circus form.  Vitaly is given a back story, his issue is dealt with, and while his performance is physically impossible, the film treats it with respect.

By the time Madagascar 3 reaches its dizzying, Circque du Soleil-inspired conclusion, it will have won you over.  Some movies—even animated ones—are just downright funny and this is one of them.  I promise, not only will it keep your kids utterly entranced, it will keep you watching right along with them.

One of the ways the film accomplishes this is with its incredible array of rich, vibrant colors, and the great levels of detail.  This Blu-ray release looks absolutely spectacular.  I am not convinced that DreamWorks is yet quite up to Pixar’s level of detail both in the fore- and back-ground, but they certainly seem to be closing in.  There are some close-ups of Captain DuBois here that look tremendous.  And, as for the Cirque du Soleil-inspired bit?  The colors there will truly ‘wow’ you (if the rest of the film hasn’t already).  The DTS-HD 7.1 TrueHD track, too, is just outstanding.  Effects, particularly during that Monte Carlo car chase, whiz all around you, and even when they don’t, there are little things happening to let you know that those speakers are still alive and kicking.  I could have done without some of the would-be 3D effects, it is obvious when things are included because the film was released in 3D, but that isn’t an issue with the release.

In terms of bonus features, three different commentary/PIP tracks are offered during the movie – a commentary with the directors, a trivia track, and another picture-in-picture affair with the directors where you get to see some of what went into making the film.  Deleted scenes, a standard featurette with actors and others discussing characters, and a music piece are also included (as is a circus afro wig).  The real goodies though are a brief roundtable with the main cast members talking about the franchise and another behind the scenes piece which really takes you through all the things that are required of the directors (including witnessing a banana gun test, allegedly conducted so that folks could get an idea of how a banana would respond upon being fired from a gun).  The former is actually a pretty good insight into how they see the franchise, and the latter a good look at the different facets of such a feature.  A Blu-ray based game as well as a DVD and digital copies round out the set. 

Even if you haven’t seen any of the other Madagascar movies, you’re not going to be disappointed by this one.  The jokes are universal, the animation is great, and the story just keeps on flying… like a banana fired from a gun.  It is loud, funny, and a wondrous sight to behold, just like every good circus.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.