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.
August 29, 2003 11:06am EST
Jeepers Creepers which was released in 2001 established some basic facts about the winged monster the most important being that it eats every 23rd spring for 23 days. This sequel however is not set in 2024 but on the last of the 23 days and parallels the events of the first film on the dreaded East 9 Highway in Poho County: On the same stretch of road a bus carrying high school students returning home from a championship game become stranded when two tires on the vehicle blow out. It's not an accident but the work of the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) who then returns to the crippled bus to feast on its passengers. After the driver and coaches get picked off the kids like savory sardines in a tin box are left to fend for themselves. The only clue they have as to what's going on is through cheerleader Minxie (Nicki Lynn Aycox) who has a dream in which Darry (Justin Long)--the lead character from the first film--warns her of the Creepers intentions. The group's only salvation is a local farmer (Ray Wise) looking to avenge his son's demise at the hands of the Creeper. Fraught with fright flick clichés Jeepers Creepers 2 is not as intelligent as the first and the elements that made the original so compelling--the suspense drama and the emotional investment in its characters--are definitely lacking in this sequel.
Jeepers Creepers 2 follows a busload of basketball players and cheerleaders as well as a farmer and his son in a concurrent storyline. The problem is there are so many characters here that none of them ever get a chance to fully develop. As the film opens attention is focused on Jack Taggert (Ray Wise) as the Creeper snatches his son in a cornfield. As an actor with great range Wise best known for his stint as Leland Palmer in David Lynch's cult series Twin Peaks isn't taken full advantage of here. He's bitter about the loss of his son but the movie gets that across to the audience by intermittently showing Wise's character frantically crafting a giant spear gun. But because the film doesn't devote enough time to the character we don't share his hatred for the Creeper. Breck reprises his role here as the winged beast and if the film spawns into a successful horror movie franchise could gain cult stardom as the Creeper. Because the Creeper is more prominent than in the first film Breck gets a chance to play with the character a little more and even infuses a bit of personality into the monster. The cast of teenage characters including Aycox Lena Caldwell and Garikayi Mutambirwa all give respectable performances but sadly get lost in the mix and never become anything more than disposable targets.
When it was released in 2001 director Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers grossed $37.9 million at the box office--commercial success for a small horror genre flick. It had a lot going for it especially compared to most slasher pics; a good story with an even more intriguing villain but its appeal rested in Salva's visual approach. The director used subtle effects to mount suspense including what he describes as a "Hitchcock reveal " where the audience is given details that the characters aren't like a shot of the Creeper in a car's rearview mirror. But in Jeepers Creepers 2 Salva overuses this effect and it becomes almost irritating. What's more the tension that came with delaying the Creepers reveal in the first film is now gone. Moviegoers see him in the first scene followed by longer glimpses with each exposure--and the more we see of him the less scary he becomes. This film does have a few things going for it one of them being Bennett Salvay's musical score. Salva does not drown the film in pyrotechnics and screeching sound effects but instead uses the musical compositions to convey the mood of the entire production. In one scene Salva provides the audience with a bird's-eye-view of the group of teens running to safety across a vast field and accompanied by the heightened score resemble a herd of wildebeest on the run. But while the film is visually interesting it ultimately fails to get the audience to care for its whole host of characters making their fate and the action inconsequential.