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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Madagascar 3

Did we really need another Madagascar film and did we really need it to be in 3D? The answers may surprise you.

I know they're massive hits and beloved by kids everywhere but I never understood the appeal of the first two Madagascar films. They were bright and jolly, sure, but the plots were dull and the characters bland and neither film was ever funny or anarchic enough to ever make up for so fatal a combination of flaws. That they also contained some of the most annoying pop-tacular soundtracks of all time didn't help matters either.

Here we are then, with Madagascar 3 in 3D and, would you know it, the main characters are still boring, the plot still uninspired and the soundtrack still annoying. Why wouldn't it be. It is still co-written and directed, after all, by Eric Darnell who has somehow made a career out of these movies. Some might rejoice at the addition of indie darling Noah Boambach as co-writer but I still haven't forgiven him for his last film, the truly hateful Greenberg. And, lets not kid, the film's decidedly unspectacular trailer offered little in the way of hope that Madagscar 3 would be any better at all than its predecessors.

Here's the twist though, Madagascar 3 is really kind of awesome. Yes, all of the series' previous missteps are still present and accounted for and there's nothing about the film's storytelling that would ever raise it to the kind of classic status that 80% of all Pixar films have managed to attain but somehow none of this takes away from the sheer amount of fun to be had during the film's brisk 93-minute run time.

The first two films were not, as I say, even remotely funny enough to overcome their storytelling problems and the simple reason why Madagascar 3 works so brilliantly is because it really, really delivers in the gag department. The animation is striking, to be sure, and the circus setting gives the film a trippy psychedelic tinge that brings to mind, of all things, Dumbo but it ultimately plays out like a series of somewhat more sophisticated (Dreamworks' animated features always keep at least one eye on the adult audiences) Looney Toons cartoons.

The four main characters are still fairly dull and they are still trying to get home - this time, as you may have guessed, via Europe - but only Alex The Lion gets any real screen time and even he is basically used as a straight man for the constantly expanding supporting cast who are responsible for almost all of the films best jokes. Incidentally, by having these characters play second fiddle to the rest of the cast, they actually become exponentially more likable.

Old favourites like Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric The Entertainer and Andy Richter are back as the series' assortment of scene stealing monkeys, penguins and lemurs, almost all with bigger roles, and they are joined by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Martin Short and, just because she hasn't appeared in a new film in the last two weeks, Jessica Chastain.

Most importantly, the unstoppably wonderful Frances McDormand comes on board as the film's villain, an outrageously French animal control officer with the outrageously French name of Captain Chantel Dubois who, as an ingenious mix of The Terminator and Edith Piaf, single-handedly raises the film from moderately funny to gut-bustingly hilarious. Whether the world needs yet another Madagscar film might be open to debate but we could all do with at least one Captain Dubois spinoff film.

That I really enjoyed a Madagascar film is shocking enough but here's the real kicker: you should really see it in 3D. That's right, for the first time since Hugo and one of the few times ever, we actually have a film that demands to be seen in 3D. Brilliantly though, it works not by copying Hugo's layered visual storytelling, but by fully embracing the gimmicky roots of 3D. This is not a film that has any interest in drawing you into its world, it is a film that takes obvious glee in reaching out, pointing and throwing things at its audience at every possible opportunity - not least of all during its many shamelessly absurd chase scenes.

Madagscar 3. Go see it. In 3D. Yup, I can't believe it either.    

(PS: I'm deducting a point purely for the excruciating song selection, which is sure to drive parents everywhere utterly insane as their little ones will undoubtedly be re-watching this film endlessly when it hits DVD in a few months. Don't say I didn't warn you.)  


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