Fri, Jul 27, 2012 - Page 12 News List

More of the same, with bells on

The multi-billion dollar animation franchise keeps the engine running smoothly, and even rises to a couple of surprises

By Andy Webster  /  NY Times News Service, New York

The old crew are back, and with the help of new friends and wild situations, there are still enough laughs to keep children and their parents entertained.

Photo: UIP

The humor is similar, but the scale is bigger, faster and brighter in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” this summer’s installment in DreamWorks Animation’s billion-dollar-grossing franchise. The images, styled after Miroslav Sasek’s illustrations, still charm, and the movies’ returning directors, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, keep their machine humming. A third director, Conrad Vernon, has joined them, perhaps to accommodate the heightened pyrotechnics.

The principals (Ben Stiller voicing Alex the leader lion; Chris Rock as Marty the effusive zebra; Jada Pinkett Smith as the ungainly Gloria the hippo; and David Schwimmer as the neurotic Melman the giraffe) also cruise comfortably, benefiting from their usual solid and abundant support, including the quasi-military penguin squad (stars of their own TV series) and Sacha Baron Cohen as the lemur King Julien.

The story — the four join a European circus to escape a predatory French animal-control official (a delightful Frances McDormand) literally after Alex’s head — has them leaving Africa for Monaco, the Swiss Alps, Rome, London and New York. And meeting a gruff tiger, Vitaly (Bryan Cranston); a spry jaguar, Gia (Jessica Chastain); and a garrulous sea lion, Stefano (Martin Short). Alex flirts with Gia, while Julien romances Sonya, a bear. (Gloria and Melman hooked up in “M2.”) Life lessons in the script (partly by Noah Baumbach, Stiller’s Greenberg director) are desultory, but a late twist is surprising.

Where Madagascar 3 soars is in its visuals: A Monte Carlo chase is vertiginously madcap; a Cirque du Soleil-style spectacle dazzles with rich pastels; the 3D effects have wit and invention. Kids will be stimulated. And, parents, you’ll enjoy the sights.

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