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.
It’s hard to do something unique with an exorcism movie. There’s definitely a feeling within the film buff community that the horror sub-genre has not only seen better days but is in fact worn thin. After all how many times can one watch a holy man work his magic on a possessed soul? The Exorcist was a looong time ago and it takes a lot more than spinning heads devilish make-up and erratic body movements to give contemporary audiences the heebie-jeebies. Nevertheless Warner Bros. seemed to believe that moviegoers would fancy another take on the religious practice in Mikael Hafstrom’s The Rite but the studio was wrong.
Sure the film features a batty performance from Sir Anthony Hopkins but its story is about as standard and predictable as can be. Inspired by true events the supernatural thriller follows a seminary student (played by the uninspired Colin O’Donoghue) who is sent to study exorcism at the Vatican in spite of his skepticism about the controversial practice and his own waning faith. But after witnessing the terrifying phenomenon first hand he begins to questions everything he believes.
As stated Hafstrom offers nothing original in his film. There’s a bit of tension between Hopkins’ Father Lucas and O’Donoghue’s Michael Kovak but only as much as the Oscar-winning thespian will allow. He chews the scenery through most of the movie and believe it or not that’s the most interesting part of the picture. The rest is all about Kovak’s backstory (which somehow ties into the convoluted plot) and a slow-burn build-up to a reveal that you can see a mile away. In between you’ll find all the trappings of an exorcist movie: haunting visions a girl in dire need of biblical intervention a dark and moody atmosphere and gothic but beautiful production design.
What you won’t find anywhere in this release is worthwhile bonus content. I’m all about production; the ideal Blu-ray (for me at least) would always contain an in-depth making-of featurette. There’s just no reason why in this day and age studios can’t have a team on the set of any picture documenting the shoot. Behind the scenes footage and interviews offer insight into creative decisions and story itself which often proves more informative and interesting than the feature. The Rite contains nothing of the sort and instead uses its disc space to boast an alternate ending a few cut scenes and a profile of Father Gary Thomas whose life story inspired the film and the novel from which it’s based (“The Rite: The Making of an American Exorcist” by Matt Baglio). In addition you can take a virtual tour of the actual Exorcism Academy (I sense a CW show in the making!) but after wasting two hours on the feature I can’t promise you’ll want to.