Seeing a sequel to an animated film might have felt surreal a long time ago. But in the past 20 years or so, every animated feature has become obligated to produce a sequel. Even the Disney classics from the golden age of cinema aren’t safe from the sequel treatment. Does anyone else find it sad that the 1950 version of “Cinderella” is now being marketed with its strait-to-DVD sequels as a trilogy? Every now and then an animated sequel comes along that tries to be as strong as the first, like “Shrek 2” or “Kung-fu Panda 2.” Once in a blue moon, there’s even a great animated trilogy such as “Toy Story.” For the most part though, these animated sequels are just unnecessary money-grubbers. The “Madagascar” series is a prime example.
While the first “Madagascar” was pleasant, it was hardly worthy of future installments. In “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” the franchise officially runs out of juice, if it even had any juice to begin with. The best word to describe the film is tired, really tired. It feels much more like a Saturday morning cartoon than an animated feature. Then again, most Saturday morning cartoons currently on television, such as “Phineas and Ferb” and “The Legend of Korra,” have more charm than “Madagascar 3.”
Ben Stiller’s Alex the Lion, Chris Rock’s Marty the Zebra, Jada Pinkett Smith’s Gloria the Hippo, and David Schwimmer’s Melman the Giraffe are back, louder and more talkative than ever. As you might have guessed from the title, their latest adventure takes them to Europe. Now that the island of “Madagascar” is completely out of the picture, including the word in the title is somewhat uncalled for. It’s like if you called a show “Jersey Shore” and then set an entire season in Miami…oh wait…
The animals meet up with their penguin friends, who previously ditched them in Africa. Their only way back to the states is via a train of circus animals. The carnies include Bryan Cranston as a grouchy tiger and Jessica Chastain as a sexy French jaguar. Alex and company pretend to be circus folk in hopes that they will finally get back to New York. Along the way, they help the animals put on a show that would make Cirque du Soleil look like an elementary school production.
The main problem with “Madagascar 3” is that it’s an incredibly noisy picture. That last statement probably makes me sound like an old fart. But not a second of the film goes by in which somebody isn’t either talking, yelling, running, singing, crashing or making a pop culture reference. The movie doesn’t permit any time for subtly or depth, making it hard to become invested in the circumstances. Kids might be amused by the bright colors and relentless energy. Adults on the other hand, should be prepared to look at their watches a fair deal.
In addition, “Madagascar 3” is littered with the most recurrent clichés in animated features. The film has some nice lessons about trying new experiences and confronting your fears. But these are such obvious lessons that have been done in vastly superior movies. The biggest cliché of all occurs in the third act in which the circus animals discover that Alex and his friends aren’t who they claimed to be. For once I would like to see an animated film in which the hero’s true identity is revealed and everyone else says, “Who cares if you lied. You’ve been helping us out and that’s what’s important.”
“Madagascar 3” does have one saving grace, Frances McDormand as the wicked Captain Chantel DuBois, who wishes to hunt down Alex and hang his head on her wall. This is a fabulous character with an ample rear end and the accent of a Bond villain. Where you can pretty much imagine the other actors providing their voices in a recording booth, McDormand’s dialect matches perfectly with the animalistic captain. The character is so much fun that a spin-off would be warranted. A movie like this is pretty much doomed though, when you wish that the villain would triumph over the animals.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.