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.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Top Story: Lewis Hospitalized for Steroids
Jerry Lewis has been hospitalized several weeks to help wean himself off the steroid medication, prednisone, which he had been taking to combat his pulmonary fibrosis, The Associated Press reports. The 77-year-old comedian voluntarily checked himself into a Las Vegas hospital on Oct. 13 to try to recuperate and strengthen his lungs, as well as bring down the noticeable bloating which occurs with taking the drug. "The important thing is he's fine and I would say in a few months he's going to be active again in the business," agent Jeff Witjas told AP. "He's slimming down to his normal weight. This is all a good thing." Lewis' manager Claudia Stabile told AP the hospitalization was designed to improve his condition, but she didn't know if he would switch to an alternative drug for treating the illness after stopping prednisone. "Hopefully the condition will improve enough where he won't have to take meds," she said. AP reports the entertainer is expected to be out in time for a March 4 show being planned at the Orleans hotel-casino. Along with pulmonary fibrosis, which is an increase in fibrous tissue in the lungs, Lewis has been plagued with other ailments, including spinal meningitis, chronic back pain and diabetes.
Kidman Gets Award
Nicole Kidman gave credit to the directors she has worked with in her acceptance of the American Cinematheque award Friday night in Los Angeles. Reuters reports the 36-year-old actress paid tribute to her "film family" including directors Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge), Stephen Daldry (The Hours), Robert Benton (The Human Stain) and Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain), who were among those seated with her at the head table. "I am proud of one thing," the Oscar-winning Kidman said in acknowledging the tribute, which was presented to her by last year's Oscar best actor Adrien Brody. "It is that I have searched out or I have been searched out by visionaries, and I've surrendered whatever I have to them." Also in attendance were her two children, Isabella and Connor. The 18th annual ceremony will air on AMC Dec. 1.
Potter Books Break Sales Record
Setting a new record Monday, sales for the Harry Potter books hit 250 million worldwide, to Potter author J.K. Rowling's agent, Christopher Little, told Reuters. They have been sold in more than 200 countries and translated into 60 languages, ranging from Gujarati to Ancient Greek. The latest, launched in India this month, was in Hindi, Reuters reports. "J.K. Rowling's books have paved the way for a new generation of exciting children's writers, causing a revolution in children's enthusiasm for reading," Little told Reuters. The agent also added Rowling has started writing the sixth installment, but no release date has been set.
MPAA's Final Word: Screener Ban Stays As-Is
The Motion Picture Association of America's chief Jack Valenti gave the final word Friday that screeners will go to Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters only, putting an end to the speculation that the MPAA and the studios would make further compromises for other organizations such as the Golden Globes' Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Many were very disappointed since Valenti had been taking meetings with the various organizations over the last few weeks and seemed sympathetic to their concerns, Variety reports. "I was a little bit surprised, truthfully," Independent Feature Project/New York executive director Michelle Byrd told Variety. "It felt like in the conversations we've been having, he's been a man of his word. So we were hopeful. Everybody would've been happy to see the ban lifted, but I think now it's final."
Beckhams Heading for Splitsville?
Soccer star David Beckham and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria, are continuing to deny British tabloid reports that their marriage is on the skids. Last weekend, London's Sunday Mirror ran a story claiming Victoria threatened to walk out unless her husband moved back to Britain from Spain, where he plays for Madrid's soccer team. AP reports a spokesperson for the couple called the statement "rubbish" and stated they may consider legal action. "Contrary to newspaper reports, our marriage is not in crisis," the Beckhams said in a statement last September in rebuttal to a similar tabloid story saying their marriage is in trouble.
Raids Seize Thousands of Counterfeit CDs
New York authorities confiscated over 55,000 compact discs and recording equipment in raids of four locations as a result of an 18-month investigation, Reuters reports. "We have undercover agents working with police on the streets to fight piracy," Recording Industry Association of America spokeswoman Amy Weiss said. Some of the seized compact discs contained music that had yet to be released to the public. Most were urban or Latin music styles.
CBS CEO Tisch Dies
Self-made billionaire Laurence "Larry" Tisch, best known for rescuing CBS Inc. from a hostile takeover in 1986 and running the network until 1995, died Saturday in Los Angeles from complications of gastric cancer, Variety reports. He was 80.
Producers Top Broadway Sales
The limited run of The Producers starring original cast members Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick broke box office records when tickets went on sale Sunday. As of midnight, sales on Sunday totaled $3.6 million for a 12-hour period--the highest one-day take in Broadway history, John Barlow, a spokesman for the show, told AP Monday. For more information about getting tickets, check out the special offer on www.broadway.com.