Aside from Pixar (and even that studio isn’t always safe territory), computer-animated kiddie flicks like Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted usually aren’t movies, so much as collections of brightly colored shapes, past-their-sell-date pop songs (Reel 2 Real’s “I Like To Move It,” a franchise favorite, gets another airing in the latest installment), wacky celebrity voices, and merchandising opportunities. So the threequel—which has a trio of directors (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon) and was co-written by, of all people, The Squid And The Whale writer-director Noah Baumbach—deserves a moment of applause for being so deeply, engagingly weird.
The basic idea of the series, that a foursome of pampered New York zoo creatures (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett Smith) have ended up in the wild, still informs the setup, though the film essentially throws it out the window after a few minutes. The animals begin in Africa, where they’re waiting for their super-competent penguin buddies to return from Monaco in their chimp-powered plane. Getting antsy, the four decide to go meet the birds, and break into the casino where they’ve been staying, attracting the attention of animal-control officer Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). Impassive, seemingly indestructible, and so French she’s able to revive her comrades by singing “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” DuBois is an entertainingly proficient villain who tracks the animals via a stunning, physics-defying chase through Monte Carlo, involving banana guns and skating through puddles of fish while holding a Vespa aloft. And this is all before a storyline in which the fugitives join a Euro circus.
Madagascar 3 tramples all logic with disarming exuberance—an unlikely romance that develops between Sacha Baron Cohen’s flamboyant lemur and a tricycle-riding bear is indulged to the point where the two take a trip to the Vatican to meet the pope while “Con Te Partirò” plays in the background. Scenes like the pursuit through the streets of Monaco, a climactic circus performance, a signature hoop-jumping trick by a tiger voiced by Bryan Cranston, and a rescue via air balloon and trapeze actually merit 3-D and delve into the surreal. Credit Baumbach, credit the filmmakers, credit no one giving a damn anymore—for what’s yet another hyperactive talking-animal children’s movie, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is uncommonly rewarding, and a potential future stoner’s delight.