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.
After a brief flashback prologue where we see how the young lion Alex (Ben Stiller) is separated from his father Zuba (Bernie Mac) inadvertently ending up in the Big Apple the story returns to present day as our favorite New York zoo denizens prepare to take off from Madagascar in a crudely constructed airplane piloted by the penguins and propelled by slingshot. Unfortunately for Alex lovelorn giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) fast talking zebra Marty (Chris Rock) and svelte hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett-Smith) instead of landing in NYC the aircraft sputters and crash lands right in the middle of Africa where they run into a world of exotic creatures. This also includes Alex’s long lost dad and mom. Happy reunion? Not quite. Zuba’s nemesis Mukunga (Alec Baldwin) insists they follow lion pride lore which means Alex must go through a rite of passage -- one he is sure to fail if Mukunga has his way. Meanwhile Marty tries to integrate into a pack of zebras; Gloria gets hooked up with a soulful hippo (will.i.am); and Melman is up to his neck looking for love. Oh and they also all have to save the Kenya preserve from a life-threatening water shortage. No biggie! Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’s witty and hip dialogue provides rich voice over opportunities for a talented crew of actors. Stiller continues to be a riot as the showbiz loving Zooperstar Alex especially in his attempts to earn the pride’s respect. Chris Rock earns his stripes as he tries to hang with a large group of look-a-like sound-a-like zebras. Schwimmer is winning and hysterical as Melman now considered a witchdoctor by his fellow giraffe-ians while Pinkett-Smith continues to shine as hippo Gloria looking for a little action. Among the new voices rapper will.i.am as Moto Moto the last of the red-hot hippos will have you wanting More More while Alec Baldwin gets to play the heavy with Lion King style. The late Bernie Mac playing it relatively straight as Alex’s father proves (as he does in his other new release this week Soul Men) shows us just how much his unique brand of humor will be sorely missed. Stealing the show however and getting king-sized laughs in an expanded role is Sacha Baron Cohen back as King Julien the hard-partying head of the lemurs. With a vast improvement in Madagascar’s state-of-the-art computer graphic work directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath take this sequel several notches up in terms of technical savvy including the exciting opening sequence as well as the plane crash. But they really score with the script with new co-writer Etan Cohen adding some crisp comedy. What was mostly just a serviceable script the first time around has gotten a lot more sophisticated and clever a development parents being dragged by their kids will be keenly grateful for. This is the rare animated sequel that actually has a reason for existence other than minting money. It has more heart drama and laughs than the original Madagascar which despite its flaws still made half a billion dollars worldwide. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa should make even more as it proves to be one of the year’s most entertaining comedy delights.
Queen Latifah and Steve Martin's romantic jailbreak comedy Bringing Down the House remained undefeated at the box office for a third week in a row, locking up a hefty $16.2 million* despite the arrival of four new wide releases.
Bringing Down the House defended its No. 1 title against this week's most threatening competitor, the supernatural thriller Dreamcatcher. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Dreamcatcher debuted in second place with a down-to-earth $15.3 million.
The 'tween spy pic Agent Cody Banks dropped a notch to third place with $9.3 million, while the new flight attendant comedy View From the Top premiered in fourth place with a turbulent $7.5 million. The actioner The Hunted rounded out the Top Five with $6.5 million.
The new animated feature Piglet's Big Movie failed to see big profits with a tiny $6.1 million take, landing it in seventh place. The week's other new release, the comedy Boat Trip, shipwrecked into tenth place with choppy $3.7 million.
THE TOP TEN
Buena Vista's PG-13 rated comedy Bringing Down the House won the box office crown for the third week in a row with an ESTIMATED $16.2 million at 2,871 theaters (+70 theaters). Its $5,643 per theater average was the highest of this week's top ten grossing films. Its cume is approximately $83.4 million, heading towards the $100 million mark.
Directed by Adam Shankman, it stars Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.
Warner Bros.' R-rated supernatural thriller Dreamcatcher debuted in second place with an ESTIMATED $15.3 million at 2,945 theaters with an impressive $5,197 per theater average.
The film, based on the Stephen King novel, revolves around four childhood friends bonded beyond friendship by telepathy--a power they must use stop an alien invasion.
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, the film stars Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis and Donnie Wahlberg.
MGM's PG-rated Agent Cody Banks fell a notch to No. 3 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $9.3 million at 3,369 theaters (unchanged), with a $2,760 per theater average. Its cume is approximately $26.6 million.
Directed by Harald Zwart, it stars Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff and Angie Harmon.
Miramax's PG-13 rated airline comedy View From the Top opened in fourth place with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million at 2,508 theaters, with a $3,016 per theater average.
The film focuses on a girl from a Nevada trailer park who sets her sights on becoming a flight attendant.
Directed by Bruno Barreto, the film stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Kelly Preston and Christina Applegate.
Paramount Pictures' R-rated actioner The Hunted dropped two places to fifth in its second week with an ESTIMATED $6.5 million at 2,517 (+1 theater), with an $2,606 per theater average. Its cume is approximately $23.4 million.
Directed by William Friedkin, it stars Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro and Connie Nielsen.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
In its 13th week of release, Miramax's PG-13 rated musical Chicago continued its mainstay in the Top Ten, dropping from fifth to sixth place with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-12%) at 2,565 theaters (-35 theaters, $2.434 per theater). Its cume is approximately $134 million.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
Buena Vista's G rated animated feature Piglet's Big Movie premiered in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million at 2,084 theaters, with a $2,927 per theater average.
In the film, young Piglet is told he is too small to help the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood begin a honey harvest. When he disappears, his pals Eeyore, Rabbit, Tigger, Roo and Winnie the Pooh must use Piglet's scrapbook as a map to find him.
Directed by Francis Glebas, it features the voices of John Fiedler, James Cummings and Andre Stojka.
Warner Bros.' R rated war actioner Tears of the Sun fell from fourth to eighth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-48%) at 2810 theaters (-163 theaters) with a $5,785 per theater average. Its cume is approximately $37.9 million.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, it stars Bruce Willis and Monica Bellucci.
DreamWork's R rated buddy comedy Old School dropped from sixth place to No. 8 in its fifth week of release with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-40%) at 2,033 theaters (-419 theaters) with a $1,968 per theater average. Its cume is approximately 50.8 million.
Directed by Todd Phillips, it stars Luke Wilson, Will Farrell and Vince Vaughn.
Rounding out the Top Ten is Artisan Entertainment's R-rated comedy Boat Trip, which debuted with an ESTIMATED $3.7 million at 1,714 theaters, with a $2,159 per theater average.
The film follows two dimwitted straight guys who set sail on a Caribbean cruise looking for love--but find out too late that they have been booked on a gay cruise.
Directed by Mort Nathan, the film stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Horatio Sanz.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $83.9 million, down 7.62 percent from last week when they totaled $90.8 million.
The Top 12 were also down 29.01 percent from last year when they totaled $118.2 million.
Last year, New Line's R rated Blade II debuted at the top of the box office with $32.5 million at 2,707 theaters ($12,016 per theater); Fox's PG rated Ice Age came in second with $30 million at 3,345 theaters ($8,986 per theater); and Universal's PG rated special edition re-release of E.T. The Extraterrestrial debuted in third with $14.2 million at 3,007 theaters ($4,730 per theater).