Third instalments of franchises historically do not tend to deliver (if you’ve seen Back to the Future Part III, you’ll know what I mean). Before anyone mentions a certain film about a knight of the dark variety, which is arguably the exception rather than the rule, I would argue this concept extends to kids' movies, particularly the animated ones, more than most genres.
By film number three, most successful animated movie franchises have either ended up going straight to DVD or having lost their famous voice actors, with them being replaced by cheap imitators. So it is quite refreshing to see a third instalment of a film series that has kept its all-star cast, as well as its entertainment value, and is actually an improvement on the previous instalment. In many ways, that is exactly what DreamWorks has managed with Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.
Madagascar 3 begins with Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria in Africa, pretty much where Madagascar 2 left off. They find themselves missing New York, and so travel to Monte Carlo to locate the penguins and use their monkey-powered plane to get back to the Central Park Zoo. However, their plan runs into trouble in Monte Carlo, where they are pursued by animal control officer and all around bad egg Captain Chantel DuBois (McDormand), who is intent on making Alex’s, head the prize trophy on her wall. To escape her, the group takes shelter with a travelling circus.
From reading that synopsis, it should be clear that Madagascar 3 isn’t exactly revolutionary in its story. It’s a very well-trodden tale: characters on the run make friends with a new group, with the grounds of their friendship predicated on a lie, which can only come back to haunt them later on once that relationship is established (possibly during an "all hope is lost" moment in the third act). It’s storytelling 101. But this doesn't work against the film, as the simplicity of the story allows for the larger-than-life characters to come to the forefront. The film never feels overcrowded and the funny lines are equally well distributed between the characters, while not being overbearing or preventing the growth of new characters that are introduced. It is a delicate balance, but Madagascar 3 achieves it with aplomb.
But the film is not perfect, and it does have a few problems. The love story between Alex and Gia seems slightly unnecessary, which is a shame because the group dynamic overall works very well. The film also drags somewhat in the middle, and while the ending is predictable, it always feels like it takes longer than necessary to get there. Minor problems aside, Madagascar 3 is a very enjoyable, highly entertaining family film that will keep kids entertained and has enough substance to stop parents from falling asleep. Oh, and keep an eye out for a subtle, but striking Inception reference at the end of the first act.
Unlike many threequels, Madagascar 3 is definitely not a letdown.
EXTRAS ★★★★ This is, as often is the case with a Paramount release, a Triple Play – meaning you get the film on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. Under the heading of High Flying Fun comes a big-top-full of bonus features: the game Get Them To The Train; a P-I-P feature called The Animators' Corner, in which the filmmakers pop in during the film to talk about how it was made; Trivia Track, which sees notes about the film pop up while it's playing; there's a filmmakers' audio commentary, with directors Darnell, McGrath and Conrad Vernon; the featurette Big Top Cast (13:38), which goes behind the scenes of the recording process with the voice actors; three deleted scenes; the featurette Mad Music Mash-up; (1:00); the making-of featurette Ringmasters (15:27); Madagascar 3 roundtable interviews with the four lead actors (3:48); and trailers for other Paramount releases.