If Dreamworks knows anything beyond animation, it is how to stick to a formula that has worked for them. “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” follows the awkward anthropomorphic animals on the move pattern only slightly modified by the addition of 3D and the spectacle that inspires.
The story begins in Africa, where Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) is homesick for the fame and attention he had at the zoo in New York. Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) attempt to cheer up their leonine friend, but it only serves to make him miss home more. Rather than wait for the doubtful return of the penguins in their monkey-powered airplane, Alex and his companions decide to go to Monte Carlo on their own and meet the penguins.
With no elaboration of their journey from Africa, the four animals wind up offshore and compile a Mission Impossible style plan to sneak into the casino, retrieve the penguins and force them to return to New York. Of course things don’t go as planned and the various animals find themselves being pursued by Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) of animal control. Being the kind of extreme parody that only works in cartoons and sitcoms, Dubois is itching to fill the space on her wall reserved for the only animal she has yet to capture with Alex’s head.
Losing their monkey powered airplane in France, the zoo animals take shelter in a circus train, convincing the animals inside that they are American circus performers. The Circus Zaragoza has one performance before they expect perform in front of an American promoter that they hope will sign them to a contract and take them to New York. The zoo animals hope to ride along and get home.
Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston) doubts their story and threatens to throw the group out as stowaways. To get around the rules, the penguins use much of their gambling proceeds to purchase the circus from the ringmaster. Now without any humans involved, the circus sets up their show in Rome, but end up having to flee when an angry mob demands their money back from the catastrophically bad performance.
Realizing that something is wrong, Alex learns from Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short) that the circus is in trouble. Stefano reveals that the circus had not been the same since Vitaly had an accident during a performance and lost his confidence. Figuring this is their only chance to get home, Alex sets convinces the Zaragoza performers to redo their acts, making them flashy and modern.
The most amusing aspect of the film was the tenacious Captain DuBois. While the animals in the film are more human than animal, DuBois turns that on its head, adopting many postures and actions that are more animal than human. Her relentless pursuit keeps the film moving from one location to the next, providing a sense of urgency.
Madagascar 3 has a standard, improbable plot with many of the standard sight gags you would expect from the third in a series of animated children’s movies. The formula is the same, and the results are predictable. While certainly no classic, Madagascar 3 is better than average for its genre.