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.
So far, during the course of this column, we’ve examined the disappearances of child actors and Hollywood royalty; of great genre directors and television stars who were once household names. The causes of these disappearances have ranged from ill-advised career choices to the decision to purse a career in politics. Or, in the case of Sean Connery, it was less a disappearance and more a retirement after a long and legendary career. Today’s subject made a similar choice, but under tragic circumstances. Today we send a search party after Rick Moranis.
Why We Love Him
Moranis got his start on the Canadian sketch comedy television show SCTV. This landmark series was the launching pad for a veritable heap of renowned comedic talents. This list includes, but is by no means limited to, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Catherine O’Hara and Dave Thomas. Moranis and Thomas created a duo of characters known as the McKenzie Brothers who derived much of their humor from being overzealously Canadian. The characters proved to be so popular that they were given their own movie in 1983: Strange Brew.
The very next year, Moranis landed a role that would forever define him as a performer and would inform the vast majority of characters he would play from that point forward. He played Louis Tully, Sigourney Weaver’s hopelessly nerdy neighbor in Ghostbusters who has the grave misfortune of being turned into a demon dog. This nerdiness would translate well to his next major film role. In 1986, he was cast as Seymour Krelborn in Frank Oz’s film adaptation of the musical Little Shop of Horrors. His thick glasses and high-water trousers were his signature armor of dweebiness, and yet his haplessness and sincerity made him instantly likeable.
In 1987, Moranis was among the stunning ensemble cast of Mel Brooks’ Star Wars parody Spaceballs. He was comedic gold as the evil Dark Helmet and has some of the best lines in an already incredibly quotable film. He also proved just as charmingly hapless as a villain as he did as a hero. He would follow this by reprising his role as Louis in Ghostbusters II before portraying wacked-out professor Wayne Szalinski in Disney’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. By then, Moranis had made nerdiness an artform.
What Happened to Him?
In 1991, Rick Moranis’ beloved wife Anne, with whom he had two children, passed away from liver cancer. By this point in his life, he was already growing restless with the Hollywood system and found little reward in it. In addition, Rick was struggling to raise his two children on his own. As a result, he announced his retirement from acting in 1997. Moranis has not appeared in a live action film since.
Where He’s Been
He was offered the role of the governor in 2001’s Evolution, but deferred the role to his friend Dan Aykroyd. Between 1997 and 2001, all was quiet on the Moranis front. In 2003, he lent his voice to the Disney film Brother Bear. In fact, since his retirement, the only brief reappearances made by Moranis have been animated films for which he provided voice work. Evidently, his decision to retire was not one entered into lightly.
Rick has remained relatively off the cinematic grid since his retirement. Even with limiting himself to animated films, the last of those that he did was Brother Bear 2 in 2006. What is often most interesting about researching these MIA celebrities is finding that they have been dabbling in other artistic mediums or even entirely separate occupations. In the case of Rick Moranis, the new medium in which he decided to dabble was that of comedic country music. In 2005 he released an album entitled ‘’The Agoraphobic Cowboy.” I don’t think I’m alone in my hope that Rick Moranis will soon trade in his Stetson for a pair of suspenders and pocket protector and return to the big screen. The state of modern comedies could be greatly improved by his return…Zuul knows it couldn’t hurt.