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.