Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Bryan Cranston • Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon • Age restriction: PG • Releases 15 June
Frenetic, loud, almost painfully colourful and packed with action from virtually the first frame to the last, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted sees our favourite zoo escapees back on the move: this time, as they join a run-down circus in Europe on the run from animal control.
All the gang is back: Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) – our original core of quadrupeds – with Sacha Baron Cohen returning to voice the mad lemur, King Julien, and Tom McGrath back as the voice of everybody's favourite penguin, Skipper.
The film opens in Africa, with an ever-more depressed Alex still desperate to return to the zoo in New York. All his hopes hang on the return of the enterprising penguins: who, along with the chimps, flew a repaired plane to Monte Carlo to become high-rollers. Our foursome decide to travel to Europe to track down the penguins and get home – and, cut to next scene, they're there – seemingly having snorkelled their way to Monte Carlo.
After a predictably chaotic grand entrance to a casino frequented by the penguins, our animal pals fall on to the radar of Capitaine Chantelle DuBois (voiced by Frances McDormand) – a fanatical animal control agent with sniffer-dog tendencies and some laugh-out-loud slapstick moments. To avoid being caught and having Alex's head mounted on a plaque, the gang manage to convince travelling circus animals to take them in and hide them – and, just their luck, the circus has their sights set on a trip to New York: if they can win the approval of a big-time agent in London.
In typical Madagascar fashion, the plot doesn't truly matter. It's ridiculously fast-paced and packed full of one-liners and pop-culture references, such as DuBois' performance of the iconic Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien – made famous by Edith Piaf and slapped on repeat for much of Christopher Nolan's Inception. The relationships between the animals and the characters' development are shallow at best – simple enough for kids to understand while not leaving much for parents tagging along.
A sprawling screenplay by Noah Baumbach and co-director Eric Darnell takes viewers on a wild ride from Africa through Europe and back to America, switching through iconic European locations such as Monte Carlo, the Vatican City, Rome, the Alps and London. While the film falters a little to start with, having the zoo animals join the circus is a masterstroke: It's the perfect place to unleash the dazzling animation, neon colours and in-your-face 3D that makes the film so entertaining. As the zoo animals decide to bring a touch of American spunk to the European circus tradition, pretty much all logic and rules fly out the window – and it's awesome.
We have big cats on the trapeze, hippos and giraffes on the tight rope, zebras and sea lions as erm... animal cannon balls and a troop of tough British pups on jetpack rollerskates... All set to Katy Perry's Firework and bright enough to induce a migraine if you're not careful. In fact, at some point I found myself wondering what drug they were on when conceptualising it all. It harks back to Disney's Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast – a wonderfully choreographed extravaganza.
Otherwise, and as usual, the plucky and resourceful core of penguins are hands-down the best of the film, with the most quotable lines. On the voice front, newcomers Bryan Cranston (the grumpy tiger Vitaly) and Martin Short (the Italian sea lion, Stefano) are hands-down the strongest of the newbies, while by comparison the usually energetic Ben Stiller sounds tired and slightly dull as Alex. Chris Rock, on the other hand, is almost painfully hyper – and his "Circus Afro" will be stuck in your head. For days.
Definitely entertaining and a great pick for kids of all sizes bored at home in the holidays Madagascar 3 is boatloads of fun: just don't look too closely at the flaws.