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.
Flyboys is about the Lafayette Escadrille a real-life WWI French fighter squadron and follows the adventures of young American men who volunteer to fly and fight for the French before the U.S.'s involvement in the war. The characters are either based directly on or are an amalgamation of the real men who flew in this most treacherous combat. There’s Blaine Rawlings (James Franco) a Texan who has just lost his ranch; William Jensen (Philip Winchester) a well-educated and earnest fellow; Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine) a privileged man who joins under the pressure of his wealthy and powerful father; Eddie Beagle (David Ellison) who is running from a criminal past; and Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis) an African-American who escapes his country’s injustice and comes to France. And what would a war film be without a love interest? Blaine falls for Lucienne (Jennifer Decker) a local French girl but that is really just a bit of a detour from the main story about these daring young men in their flying machines. With a life expectancy of about six weeks they considered themselves knights of the air with their own code of chivalry and honor. Unfortunately for this cast of fine actors there isn’t a whole of time to show off their acting abilities. Franco (Spider-Man) is probably the biggest name and stands out as Rawlings a guy who has nothing left to lose. The actor took his job very seriously getting his pilot’s license—and should finally get a break from all the flops he has been in of late (Tristan and Isolde Annapolis). Jean Reno does a fine job in the thankless part as the squadron commander Captain Thenault. And Decker is captivating as Lucienne debuting in her first U.S. film; it probably won’t be her last. Salis (Love Actually) Labine (Antitrust) Winchester (The Patriot) and first-timer Ellison (a licensed aerobatic pilot in real life) are all good but Martin Henderson (Torque) as Reed Cassidy--a veteran pilot and a bitter loner with a big chip of his shoulder--is the most interesting of the supporting players. These fighter pilots known for being methodical and hyper-courageous in the air were also a bit eccentric and tortured when on the ground. With Flyboys director Tony Bill (My Bodyguard) found his dream project. Bill has always been known as an actor’s director and definitely keeps his Flyboys in check. But where the film really soars pun intended is in the absolutely remarkable aerial sequences. The director is an expert pilot himself and his love of flying is clearly evident and the real guiding hand. He does an excellent job in capturing what it must have been like to be a WWI fighter pilot putting audiences right in the hot seat almost quite literally at times. There haven’t been many movies made about this particular subject obviously due to lack of technology to make it seem real. And it’s that commitment to realism which ultimately what keeps Flyboys flying higher than it should. If the story had been more compact and compelling this might have been a classic war movie. Instead Flyboys is a just good film based on true war stories with better pictures.