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.
Grab your bows and prepare to make mince meat out of the other tributes…The Hunger Games are upon us.
This week, arguably the first anticipated film of 2012 finally finds its way to theaters. Based on the young adult book series by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games presents a distant future in which an uprising of the poorer classes was quelled and, as punishment, each of these districts must offer up two children each year to fight to the death in a widely-televised, macabre sporting event.
This movie details a dystopian future, an oppressive, state-run nightmare masquerading as a utopia, and that got us thinking about the ultimate dystopian story: 1984. If you haven’t seen the film adaptation of this classic novel (which was, unironically, produced in 1984), Netflix’s Watch Instantly service has you covered. We hope you’ll consider making it a companion film for The Hunger Games.
Who Made It: 1984, the novel, was written by George Orwell. Orwell was a deeply socially-conscience thinker harboring a fierce opposition to totalitarian and otherwise oppressive political regimes. This film version was directed and written for the screen by Michael Radford. One of his first feature films, 1984 would be followed with his highly acclaimed Il Postino in 1994.
Who’s In It: 1984 stars John Hurt in the lead role. Hurt, who most recently appeared in Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, is one of the greatest living actors of our time. You may also have seen him in V for Vendetta, Immortals or as the wand maker Ollivander in the Harry Potter franchise. The film also marks the last on-screen appearance of acting royalty Richard Burton.
What’s It About: 1984 takes place in an alternate future, well what would have been an alternate future when the book was written though now a year long since past. In this supposed era, a form of socialism has taken over England, which is in a state of perpetual war and overwhelming poverty. The new government keeps a firm hold over its people through surveillance and fear. Our protagonist is Winston Smith, whose occupation sees him altering historical documents to create whichever past is most convenient for the government at that time. He is however risking his life to keep a diary of his thoughts, a rebel who dares to feel.
Why You Should Watch It:
1984, both as a novel and as a film, occupies the top tier of dystopian science-fiction. Like most works within this strange subgenre, it supposes a world where order and social “harmony” is achieved at the expense of individual thought and freedom. A society in which the people are lulled into conformity by a system of lies and propaganda. Individual expression is forbidden and regulated by a group called The Thought Police. I mean, heck, this is the story that coined the term, “big brother.”
These films, these stories, are always fascinating to contemplate within the context of our actual society. We may not be living under a tyranny this exaggerated, but there are themes touched upon in the film that are echoed in our current political climate. The influence and government and its right to intrude upon our privacy, the regulation of sexual morays, and the supplication of the poorer classes are all ideas that, in some form or another, still resonate and foster much debate. What’s great about these dystopian tales is that the presence of the lone, rebel hero who has the audacity to be a normal, free-thinking human being, always inspires hope in even the most somber, pessimistic portrayal of our future.
On top of its metaphoric and thematic trappings, 1984 is a supremely well-made piece of cinema. John Hurt’s performance is reserved, but powerfully complex. The film was shot by Roger Deakins, who is one of the most celebrated cinematographers in the industry. The guy has shot pretty much every Coen Brothers movie—if that’s any indication. He does a great job of creating this harsh, cold, industrial hellscape to which these supposedly free citizens are shackled. It’s a movie that looks as desolate and grim as its themes elicit affectively from the audience. Interesting side note, it was jrecently announced that we’ll be getting an updated version of the film co-produced by Ron Howard and renegade street artist Shepard Fairey.