Did you know that lions get homesick too? All Alex can think of is getting he and his pals—Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo and Melman the giraffe—back to their comfy cages in the Central Park Zoo. They've been off on their travels far too long. (Two movies too long, to be precise.)
So they all make their way into Monte Carlo to find their gambling penguin chums and head home. But that scheme very quickly goes destructively South. And so do they, with a determined Capitaine Chantel DuBois hot on their heels. This steely-eyed French animal control officer is determined to add a lion head to her wall of captured critters. (Gulp.)
To avoid that unpleasant end, Alex and his four-legged friends do what anyone would do … join the circus. Finding a train full of down-on-their-luck animal performers, they hop aboard and start planning ways to make the show better. If they can add a little sparkle to the act by the time the circus reaches London, they just might land a ticket back to the Big Apple.
All they need to do is avoid Dubois and, well, figure out if it's actually possible for a hippo to dance on a high-wire.
From the zoo-y friends' point of view, it's one for all and all for one. They pull for one another constantly, always trying to help out or bolster up. And even though they have to stretch the truth to get the circus animals to accept them (not great), they end up pulling for them too (quite great). All the old animals and all the new animals become fast friends, working hard to make the circus the best it can be. And after the zoo guys' lie is discovered, they quickly apologize and do all they can to regain their fellows' trust.
Vitaly the tiger, the circus's animal leader, doesn't really like Alex or want him there. But in the end the lion helps the crusty Vitaly get over a past disaster and overcome his greatest fear. And when the tiger's past comes to light, the zoo animals (and the audience) learn to appreciate how important it is to know someone's story better before judging them.
While preparing for a new circus act, Stefano the sea lion is shot out of a cannon and winds up dangling from a high ledge. Marty immediately leaps into action to save his new friend, risking his own stripes and discovering a new passion in the process: flying through the air with the greatest of ease.
In fact, after the zoo pals finally make their way back to Central Park, they suddenly realize they've all come to love the circus life they've been living and the new friends they've made.
During a very stressful moment, Stefano prays, "Mama Maria, Santa Maria." As part of a quick jokey quip, Marty says, "I don't know, ask the rabbi." When in Rome, Julien kisses the Pope's hand ... and steals his ring.
When the flamboyant lemur King Julien XIII and his pals find themselves in a dark scary train car filled with creepy shadows, claw-scraped walls and fish bones on the floor, they eventually realize it's the home of the circus' performing bear—and King Julien immediately falls in love with the hulking girl bruin. Their "love" is punctuated by him saying, "Ooh, you have a very hairy back. I like that in a woman," and scenes of the lemur getting accidentally crushed, battered and slammed around by the bear's bulky movements. When King Julien holds up a fish head, the bear almost swallows him whole. At one point, Julien exclaims, "No means no!"
Julien sings the racy Nelly song "Hot in Herre," changing the line "So take off all your clothes" to "So take off all your fur." We hear a bit of Journey's "Any Way You Want It." Somebody mentions a circus troupe that performed "in the nude."
When the animals attempt to find their penguin friends in Monte Carlo, they end up falling through a glass ceiling, crushing a roulette table and causing a panic at the casino. After completely destroying the place while trying to run away, the animal rampagers end up climbing aboard the penguins' armored SUV (purchased with their gambling winnings) and smash-crashing their way through the city's streets. Vehicles are tumbled, blown up and sent hurtling off tall buildings. Capitaine DuBois creates just as much havoc and destruction as she chases after them—smashing through walls and plate glass windows.
The Capitaine blazes away at the animals with her knockout dart pistol. And at one point she loads a poison dart with a skull and crossbones on its side. (But she misses her mark.) A group of cute little dogs in the circus turns out to be a pack of cockney mongrels—quick to break out switchblades and broken bottles when the "need" arises. We see them fight amongst themselves and threaten others. Vitaly throws knives at the other animals to make his points—always landing them right next to bodies or faces.
Some of the animals end up thumping Capitaine DuBois on a couple of occasions when she charges in: The bear hits her with a motorcycle wheel, she's crushed between two elephants and falls unconscious off a raised platform. During one terrible circus performance, an elephant teeters backward and sits on a boy. The animal gets up, and we see the lad's feet sticking out from its backside. Vitaly catches on fire (offscreen).
Crude or Profane Language
Vitaly, who is Russian, spits out, "That's Bolshevik!" (as a stand-in for the s-word). Stefano tells his new friends, "You think we are a stinky, poopy circus" and, "Grab your luggage and drain your bladders." Mario Andretti's name gets changed to "Sucky-o Andretti," used as a put-down, along with "Ruskie," "stupido" and "psycho." We hear "heck" and "oh my gosh!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
A French Canadian circus company is said to have been incredibly successful even though its members were "drunk on their maple syrup and cheap pharmaceuticals." After signing a contract, a promoter smokes a banana. The shock of seeing jungle animals in a casino causes one patron to throw away her drink.
Other Negative Elements
As mentioned, Alex and Co. claim to be part of a circus themselves, lying about their talents and death-defying feats to gain the support of their new comrades. And the casino gambling pays huge dividends for the penguins, their winnings on the roulette wheel ultimately allowing the zoo animals to purchase the circus.
A small lemur runs about under the Capitaine's shirt. We see her gasping reactions and a small moving lump. It's said that the animal-hunting Capitaine "strangled her first parrot at age 7." In Rome, Alex cracks a joke about his ancestors performing in the Colosseum, saying they really "killed."
One of the lemurs vomits pink icing.
I'm never surprised when new animated sequels pop up at the theater. After all, they bring in the families and sell the popcorn. It's actually surprising we don't see even more. But let's be honest, how often does anyone expect much beyond 90 minutes of muddled mayhem from a cartoony flick with a "2" or "3" plastered on the poster? And with something like Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, well, let's just say pigs can fly higher than my hopes when I walked in to review it.
Here's a franchise that's getting pretty long in the mane. It doesn't really even have anything to do with Madagascar anymore. It carries over with an already bloated cast of zoo animals and adds a half dozen more. It was shaped and pieced together by three different directors. It jumps around with the rabid pace of a monkey with its tail on fire, throwing globs of slapstick violence at the wall just to watch them slide to the floor.
But then that flying pig hit me in the head: Just like a madcap three-ring circus, this thing was somehow working. At least it was working better than its predecessors.
The characters are warmly colorful, even the villainous Capitaine DuBois, who combines the wicked heart of Cruella De Vil with the athletic grace of a Cirque du Soleil gymnast and the hennaed look of Lucille Ball on a butter-and-cheese diet. The circus setting sparkles with neon joy. The journey back to Central Park is a hoot. And there are even good solid lessons to be found amongst the peanuts and Cracker Jack.
These four-footed furry funsters encourage kids to overcome their fears and failures. They show them how to stand strong with their friends. And, above all, they encourage watching tykes to make the most of all the little problems life can throw at them.
To put that last lesson in the circus vernacular: While walking the tightrope of life, remember that those unexpected juggling balls that get tossed in your direction just might end up making things a little more fun. And I guess that can even count when a ball has a big number 3 plastered on it. Just be ready to duck the one flying off the roulette wheel, covered in pink icing and emblazoned with "Bolshevik."
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Comedy, Kids, Animation, Action/Adventure
Ben Stiller as Alex; Chris Rock as Marty; Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria; Frances McDormand as Capitaine Chantel DuBois; Bryan Cranston as Vitaly; Martin Short as Stefano; Jessica Chastain as Gia; David Schwimmer as Melman; Sacha Baron Cohen as King Julien XIII
Eric Darnell (Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa, Madagascar, Antz), Tom McGrath (Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa, Madagascar) and Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs. Aliens, Shrek 2)
June 8, 2012
Bob Hoose Bob Hoose