A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Beyonce, Kings of Leon and Taylor Swift were the toast of the music world on Sunday night after taking home the 52nd annual Grammy Awards' biggest prizes.
Beyonce was the Los Angeles event's biggest winner, claiming six of the 10 honors for which she was nominated.
These included Song of the Year, Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance awards for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)."
Swift took home her first four Grammys, including the coveted Album of the Year award, and Kings of Leon's anthem "Use Somebody" earned the rockers prizes for Record of the Year, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
The Black Eyed Peas and Jay-Z were also triple winners at the Grammys, as was the San Francisco Symphony, thanks to its album Mahler: Symphony No. 8; Adagio from Symphony No. 10.
The event's winners were overshadowed by a clutch of terrific performances from acts like Green Day, Pink, Dave Matthews Band, Beyonce and the Black Eyed Peas.
Elton John and Lady Gaga collaborated to open the show, and there were further mash-ups for Jamie Foxx, T-Pain and Slash, Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli, Eminem, Drake and Lil Wayne, and Taylor Swift and Fleetwood Mac star Stevie Nicks.
But the event's highlight was a star-studded tribute to Michael Jackson; Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Smokey Robinson and Carrie Underwood teamed up to perform the King of Pop's "Earth Song."
The stunning collaboration was accompanied by a 3-D version of the "Earth Song" video Jackson planned to use as a backdrop during his This Is It concerts last summer.
Stars like Beyonce, Rihanna and will.i.am were among the audience members who donned special 3-D glasses to fully appreciate the spectacular musical moment.
They ended the song with their backs to the crowd, staring at images of Jackson, which were flashed onto the big screen behind them, as the audience rose to its feet to applaud the performance, which presenter Lionel Richie called "unbelievable."
Following the showstopper, Jackson's children Prince and Paris took the Staples Center stage to honor their father, a recipient of one of the night's Lifetime Achievement Awards.
In his first public speaking appearance, Prince thanked God for "watching over us these past seven months" and "our grandma and grandpa for their love and support."
Both Jackson children ended their brief acceptance speeches with the words "We love you daddy".
The big winners of the 2010 Grammys are:
Record Of The Year: Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
Song Of The Year: Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) - Beyonce
Best New Artist: Zak Brown Band
Album Of The Year: Fearless - Taylor Swift
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance: Halo - Beyonce
Best Male Pop Vocal Performance: Make It Mine - Jason Mraz
Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: I Gotta Feeling - The Black Eyed Peas
Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals: Lucky - Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat
Best Pop Instrumental Performance: Throw Down Your Heart - Bela Fleck
Best Pop Instrumental Album: Potato Hole - Booker T. Jones
Best Pop Vocal Album: The E.N.D. - The Black Eyed Peas
Best Dance Recording: Poker Face - Lady Gaga
Best Electronic/Dance Album: The Fame - Lady Gaga
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden - Michael Buble
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: Working On A Dream - Bruce Springsteen
Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
Best Hard Rock Performance: War Machine - AC/DC
Best Metal Performance: Dissident Aggressor - Judas Priest
Best Rock Instrumental Performance: A Day In The Life - Jeff Beck
Best Rock Song: Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
Best Rock Album: 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
Best Alternative Music Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
Best Female R&B Vocal Performance: Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) - Beyonce
Best Male R&B Vocal Performance: Pretty Wings - Maxwell
Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: Blame It - Jamie Foxx & T-Pain
Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance: At Last - Beyonce
Best Urban/Alternative Performance: Pearls - India.Arie & Dobet Gnahore
Best R&B Song: Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) - Beyonce
Best R&B Album: Blacksummers' Night - Maxwell
Best Contemporary R&B Album: I Am... Sasha Fierce - Beyonce
Best Rap Solo Performance: D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune) - Jay-Z
Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group: Crack A Bottle - Eminem, Dr. Dre & 50 Cent
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration: Run This Town - Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West
Best Rap Song: Run This Town - Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West
Best Rap Album: Relapse - Eminem
Best Female Country Vocal Performance: White Horse - Taylor Swift
Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Sweet Thing - Keith Urban
Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: I Run To You - Lady Antebellum
Best Country Collaboration With Vocals: I Told You So - Carrie Underwood & Randy Travis
Best Country Instrumental Performance: Producer's Medley - Steve Wariner
Best Country Song: White Horse - Taylor Swift
Best Country Album: Fearless - Taylor Swift
Best Spoken Word Album: Always Looking Up - Michael J. Fox
Best Comedy Album: A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All! - Stephen Colbert
Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media: Slumdog Millionaire - Various Artists
Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media: Up - Michael Giacchino
Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media: Jai Ho (From Slumdog Millionaire) - Gulzar, A.R. Rahman & Tanvi Shah, songwriters
Lifetime Achievement Award: Leonard Cohen
Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael Jackson
Lifetime Achievement Award: Loretta Lynn
Lifetime Achievement Award: Bobby Darin
Lifetime Achievement Award: Clark Terry
Lifetime Achievement Award: David 'Honeyboy' Edwards
Lifetime Achievement Award: Andre Previn
Trustees Award: Walter C. Miller
Trustees Award: Florence Greenberg
Trustees Award: Harold Bradley
Presidents Merit Award: Doug Morris
Presidents Merit Award: Placido Domingo
Presidents Merit Award: Ken Ehrlich
MusiCares Person of the Year: Neil Young
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