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.
The Haunted Mansion and Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat dominated the Thanksgiving box office with Eddie Murphy's Disneyland attraction flick placing first for the five day holiday period and Mike Myers' wacky feline topping the three day chart.
The Haunted Mansion enjoyed the biggest five day (Wed.-Sun.) slice of box office pie with $35 million* versus The Cat in the Hat's $34 million take. For three days (Fri.- Sun.), The Cat in the Hat led with $25.5 million versus The Haunted Mansion $25.3 million.
Of the four new wide releases vying for the North American box office, The Haunted Mansion was the only one to crack the Top Five, with last week's topper The Cat in the Hat giving it a run for its money, despite taking a critical beating.
"[Family films] are sometimes put up against a much more critical standard than they should be," Disney head of distribution, Chuck Viane, told The Associated Press Sunday. "You have people who want everything to be so artistic. That's not what family movies are about. They're about enjoyment and laughter and having fun."
Family entertainment was certainly the thing to beat this weekend. The holiday comedy Elf remained in third place in its third week of release, taking in a not-so-elfish $31.8 million. Elf's weekend take was enough to push it by the $100 million mark, making it the 24th release of the year to do so. This ties 2002's record of 24 films.
Gothika, meanwhile, came in fourth with $18.2 million, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World rounded out the Top Five with $17.5 million.
Thanksgiving's three other wide theatrical openings were turkeys compared to Mansion--Bad Santa brought in only $16.8 million, The Missing made $16.5 million and Timeline took $12.6 million. The films came in sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
Key films grossed $209.5 million for five days, up about 8.6 percent from last Thanksgiving (Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2002) when key films did $192.9 million. The year 2000 still holds the overall Thanksgiving record with $232.16 million for the Top 12's five-day period, but if this week's estimates hold, this year's five-day posts will be the second all-time best.
THE TOP TEN
(NOTE: Today's films are ranked according to their estimates for the FIVE-DAY Thanksgiving holiday period from Wednesday through Sunday. Percentage variations do not apply because the previous weekend was a normal three-day weekend. Estimates for the three-day period from Friday through Sunday are indicated parenthetically.)
Buena Vista's PG rated horror comedy The Haunted Mansion led the five-day box office in its opening week with an ESTIMATED $35 million at 3,122 theaters, with a strong $8,104 per theater average. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $25.3 million.)
In the film, a real estate agent moves his family into a mansion located on a remote bayou with the hopes of refurbishing it and making the deal of a lifetime--until he unearths the house's history and finds that his wife has unexpected connections to its haunted past.
Directed by David Berenbaum, it stars Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason and Jennifer Tilly.
Universal Pictures' PG rated Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, last week's box office champ, followed in close second in its second week with an ESTIMATED $34 million at 3,467 theaters (+3 theaters, $7,130 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $25.5 million.)
Directed by Bo Welch, it stars Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Kelly Preston, Alec Baldwin and Sean Hayes.
New Line Cinema's PG rated holiday comedy Elf remained in third place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $31.8 million at 3,202 theaters (-179 theaters; $6,925 per theater). Its cume is approximately $130.1 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $22.1 million.)
Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen.
Warner Bros.' R rated horror thriller Gothika fell two notches to fourth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $18.2 million at 2,382 theaters (unchanged; $5,336 per theater). Its cume is approximately 41.1 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.7 million.)
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, it stars Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Penelope Cruz and Bernard Hill.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated naval epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World dropped one place to round out the Top Five in its third week with an ESTIMATED $17.5 million at 2,703 theaters (-398 theaters; $4,698 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.4 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.7 million.)
Directed by Peter Weir, it stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Miramax Films' R rated holiday comedy Bad Santa kicked off rather politely in sixth place with an ESTIMATED $16.8 million at 2,005 theaters ($6,227 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.4 million.)
In the film, two conmen disguised as Santa and his elf go on a road trip to rob malls during the holiday season.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Tony Cox and John Ritter.
Sony Pictures' R rates Western The Missing debuted in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $16.5 million at 2,765 theaters ($4,245 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $11.7 million.)
In the film, a young medicine woman raising her two daughters in an isolated area of New Mexico in the 1880s must reunite with her estranged father when one of her children is abducted.
Directed by Ron Howard, it stars Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Jenna Boyd and Eric Schweig.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated thriller Timeline opened in eighth place with an ESTIMATED $12.6 million at 2,787 theaters ($3,041 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $8.4 million.)
In the film, based on Michael Crichton's 1999 bestseller, a group of archeologists travel to and get trapped in 14th-century France.
Directed by Richard Donner, it stars Paul Walker, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly and Frances O'Connor.
Universal Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Love Actually dropped four positions to ninth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $11.2 million in 1,714 theaters (+24 theaters; $4,597 per theater). Its cume is approximately $43.2 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $7.8 million.)
Directed and written by Richard Curtis, it stars Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley and Bill Nighy.
Buena Vista's G rated animated film Brother Bear slipped three spots to No. 10 in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $6.4 million in 2,034 theaters (-851; $2,409 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77.7 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $4.9 million.)
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker, it features the voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, D.B. Sweeney and Michael Clarke Duncan.
As the major studios begin generating their pre-Academy Award buzz, several Oscar-bait films debuted this weekend in limited release.
Fox Searchlight's PG-13 rated drama In America debuted in 11 theaters with an ESTIMATED $257,853 ($18,430 per theater average. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $202,729.)
Directed by Jim Sheridan, it stars Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Djimon Hounsou, Sarah Bolger and Emma Bolger.
Lions Gate's R rated black comedy The Cooler opened in 11 theaters with an ESTIMATED $173,000 ($11,909 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $131,000.)
Dirceted by Wayne Kramer, it stars William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Maria Elana Bello.
Sony Picture Classics' PG-13 rated animated feature Triplets of Belleville (Les Triplette de Belleville) opened in six theaters with $150,371 ($19,106 per theater). Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $114,636.)
Directed by Sylvain Chomet, it features the voices of Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas and Michèle Caucheteux.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in an ESTIMATED $209.5 million for the five day Thanksgiving holiday period, up about 8.6 percent from last year's five day Thanksgiving weekend when they totaled $195.9 million. Comparisons to last weekend of this year are not valid because last weekend was a normal three-day weekend.
As the Ice Age ends we meet Kenai a headstrong teenager anxiously waiting to receive his "totem" or symbol from the Great Spirits that will help guide him through life. His two older brothers Sitka and Denahi have really cool totems--an eagle and a wolf respectively--and Kenai is hoping to get something equally manly. Yet when Kenai is given a bear totem which represents love the young man is humiliated and he vents his frustrations by charging after a bear that's stolen a basket of fish. His brothers rush to stop him and the ensuing battle with the bear ends in tragedy: Sitka dies trying to save Kenai and the grief-stricken younger brother vows to hunt the fleeing animal down in revenge. Just as Kenai catches and kills the bear the Great Spirits start their fun transforming Kenai into a bear and telling him that to become human again he must find the place where "the lights touch the mountain." Kenai a very reluctant bear sets out on his quest picking up a traveling companion--an oh-so-cute bear cub named Koda--who knows the way. Kenai begins to see the world through the bear's eyes and as he gains respect for the animal he finds the true meaning of his totem. Imagine that. It's a formulaic story but somewhat enjoyable and certainly no kid will find fault with it.
Despite thematic similarities Brother Bear is no Ice Age. While both films succeed in conveying a heartwarming message about man and nature during prehistoric times Ice Age is full of clever dialogue and witty banter giving stars such as Ray Romano and John Leguizamo a chance to shine as animated characters. Brother Bear's dialogue sounds more preachy and Saturday morning cartoonish which leaves the voice cast very little to work with--including the Oscar-nominated Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai; Bernie Mac's Jeremy Suarez as little Koda and D.B. Sweeney as Sitka. The saving graces at least for the parents in the audience are Rutt and Tuke a pair of wisecracking moose. Voiced by old friends and SCTV alums Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas the moose performances recall brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie a hilarious pair of Canadian brewery workers Moranis and Thomas immortalized on SCTV (and in film too--remember the 1983 Strange Brew?). Of course Rutt and Tuke are a slightly modified version of the McKenzie brothers since they don't actually wear down jackets drink copious amounts of beer or complain about the hosers of the world eh? Still you can tell pros Moranis and Thomas had fun as their moose counterparts commenting on whichever situation they happen to find themselves in. Pay particular attention to their banter as they catch a ride on the backs of some traveling woolly mammoths.
Disney's Brother Bear animators use all their handy little tricks to paint a rugged and spectacularly beautiful Pacific Northwest landscape but Bear ultimately comes off as another commercial Mouse House product made to generate Christmas merchandising bucks. You get the feeling these guys can do this stuff in their sleep and you suspect they probably did. Even the original songs which usually stand out in a Disney film seem fresh off the assembly line. Singer-songwriter Phil Collins penned six brand new songs for this movie including the main theme song "Great Spirits " but they all seem to hearken back the formula he used in the Academy Award-winning "You'll Be in My Heart" from 1999's animated Tarzan--similar rhythms same basic tune if a little easier on the bongo drums. This is the Pacific Northwest after all not the African jungle.