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.
Reeve's animated feature moves forward
Yankee Irving, a computer-animated feature film that Christopher Reeve had been directing at the time of his death last weekend, will remain in production, producer Morris Berger told The Associated Press yesterday. But Berger said IDT Entertainment had not yet decided who will take over as director. "We've just been addressing personal issues and the great loss and reassuring our staff that the production will go on," he said. "Tomorrow we'll think those things through." Yankee Irving is about a father and his baseball playing son who overcomes personal obstacles to realize his dreams. Reeve, who had overseen the project for the past year, once described it as "captivating, with the perfect blend of warmth and wit." Reeve had been overseeing the film's production from his home office in Pound Ridge, N.Y., through a videoconferencing system set up by IDT, and regularly sent electronic files of character designs and animatics filled with notes to the company's animation production offices. Voice casting and theatrical distribution for Yankee, which is scheduled for release sometime in 2006, have yet to be announced. The Superman star died Sunday after suffering a heart attack and slipping into a coma the previous day. He was 52.
FCC to fine Fox for indecency violation
The Federal Communications Commission is reportedly preparing to levy a $1 million fine against Fox Broadcasting Co. and its affiliates for indecency violations dating back to April 2003 with an episode of the reality show Married by America, Reuters reports. According to Monday's edition of Television Week, the content in question involved lascivious banter among Married contestants and a segment that involved contestants licking whipped cream off each other's bodies. The weekly newspaper reported the fine stemmed from a complaint lodged by watchdog group the Parents Television Council. The fine comes less than a month after the FCC formally issued its $550,000 fine against CBS for Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl telecast in February 2003.
Travolta to guest star on Alley's Fat Actress
Kirstie Alley, whose upcoming Showtime series Fat Actress is set to debut in March, will be in good company. The AP reports Alley's Look Who's Talking co-star John Travolta will make a guest appearance on the seven-episode, unscripted comedy series. Based on Alley's real-life struggles, the show follows a semi-fictional film and TV star as she comically contends with an unforgiving public and media over her struggles with weight. The actors will largely improvise based on a story outline. Travolta joins several guest stars slated for the reality hybrid, including his own actress wife, Kelly Preston, NBC Universal TV Group President Jeff Zucker and Hangin' With Mr. Cooper's Mark Curry.
Democrats want anti-Kerry docu shelved
The Democratic Party is expected to file a complaint today with the Federal Election Commission against the broadcasting company Sinclair Broadcast Group for their plans to air a documentary criticizing presidential candidate John Kerry, the AP reports. Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, made by Vietnam veteran and former journalist Carlton Sherwood, chronicles Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress and includes interviews with Vietnam prisoners of war and their wives, who claim Kerry's testimony demeaned them and led their captors to hold them longer. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe argues Sinclair is acting as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party rather than a legitimate news outlet. Campaign finance records show that company's executives have donated thousands of dollars to Bush's campaign.
Cates to take on Academy Awards again
Gil Cates has signed on to produce next year's Academy Awards, making it his 12th time behind the star-studded Hollywood bash, AP reports. "With 11 shows under his belt, no other producer, living or dead, even comes close to the depth of Gil's experience," said Frank Pierson, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "We're lucky to have him back." Cates added, "I already have ideas whirling around in my head and can't wait to see them through to fruition on Oscar night." The 77th Academy Awards will be preceded by the telecast of the Academy's official pre-show red carpet arrivals from 5 to 5:30 p.m., which Cates will also executive produce.
Apprentice Troy McClain shopping for a college
Troy McClain, who was fired by Donald Trump during the first season of the TV reality show The Apprentice, is currently fielding offers from several colleges and universities, including Boise State, Columbia University and Albertson College of Idaho. McClain, who was one of the most successful and popular members on the inaugural season of The Apprentice, later said on his Tonight Show appearance it was his lack of a college degree eventually did him in. Trump heard his comment and offered to send McClain to the college of his choice. "This man, with an education, will be unbeatable," Trump said at the time. McClain started looking hard at Boise State after President Bob Kustra contacted him personally over the summer, his manager Ed Moore told the AP.
Madonna, Prince top Billboard touring awards
Madonna is one of the top finalist for Billboard's Backstage Pass Awards, which recognizes top achievements in touring and are based on ticket sales tabulated in Billboard's Boxscore Reports, LaunchMusic reports. Other finalists include Prince, Shania Twain, Josh Groban, Linkin Park and John Mayer. The awards will be presented Nov. 8 and 9 in New York.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.