Madagascar 3 (2012)

The cover of my DVD of Madagascar 3 features a quote that says, “Easily the best one yet!”

Do not be fooled.

It is funny from time to time, and it must have been spectacular in 3D, but it lacks emotional depth. It made a ton of money, though, unlike Rise of the Guardians, which came out in the same year, and which must have been equally spectacular in 3D, and which personally I liked a lot better.

The premise is that Alex and friends get tired of waiting for the penguins and chimps to come back from Monte Carlo and take them to NYC, so they go to Monte Carlo to look for them. However, an animal control woman who can sniff out animals like a bloodhound and who has always wanted a lion for her collection of stuffed heads starts chasing them. They escape her temporarily, but crash land before they’ve gone far. How can a group of animals move around Europe without attracting notice? By running away with the circus, which becomes an all-animal circus when the penguins and chimps buy out the owner.

The whole thing gives me the impression that some committee decided to make Cirque de Soleil, in Europe, using the Madagascar characters, plus some Europeans with funny accents, and then hastily wrote a complicated, ridiculous plot that included all of the group’s ideas, instead of all of the group’s best ideas.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Not only do kids deserve good stories, kids especially deserve good stories.


At least they got a good light show.

More thoughts, with SPOILERS, below.

I did not like the start of the movie, in which Alex has a nightmare about being old, because it painted old age in such a negative light. My objection is not motivated by political correctness; I just think kids shouldn’t be taught to fear ageing. Kids think they’re going to live forever; heck, they think forty-five minutes is forever; old age is an adult fear.

I totally thought that the clay NYC model in the riverbed would get washed away. It didn’t. Maybe it was supposed to, and the moviemakers decided that people loved NYC itself too much to show its destruction onscreen. Instead, we see a birthday cake destroyed when King Julien jumps out of it. And another critter vomits. (Yuck.)

I liked the spy movie stuff when the group arrives in Monte Carlo, and I was amused by the penguins’ ability to manipulate the human world with the help of the chimps. I’m not sure penguin antics and one-liners would hold up for an entire movie, though.

Because she likes to kill animals, the animal control woman (Chantel DuBois) reminded me (and every other reviewer, it seems) of Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmations, which now that I think of it, I haven’t seen for ages. DuBois was a bit too cartoonish for me, even given that this was a cartoon; she busted through walls uninjured. Exaggeration isn’t very funny to me.

Vitaly’s stunt of leaping through hoops that were literally impossible for him to fit through, with or without olive oil (or conditioner), was likewise too exaggerated for my taste. I thought his secret fear was going to have been motivated by the humiliation of having gotten stuck in a too-small hoop. That would have made more sense both literally and in the context of a failing circus; he wouldn’t want to risk his dignity again, and we’d understand that even better than we’d understand fear of something physically dangerous, like fire.

The penguins’ plane shoots bananas, but bananas are also what power the plane: they are bribes and fuel for the chimps who make the wings flap. If the Matrix-y rooftop shootout had resulted in a disastrous fuel shortage (as I fully expected) rather than just some vague mechanical damage, the crash would have been more logical and therefore probably also funnier. Humor that is logically satisfying (or genuinely surprising) is more likely to succeed than humor that is just random.

I did not like the sea lion. Stupidity and incompetence aren’t funny to me.

I did not like Alex’s “let’s all pull together” speech because I am SO VERY TIRED of the rhetoric about “passion” for one’s job. I believe the rhetoric, while it may be well meaning, sets unrealistic expectations by making people think that they need to be in love with every little part of their jobs for every minute of the day and that if they’re not, there’s something wrong with their lives. Alex should instead have emphasized the idea of the circus animals’ newfound independence from humans, because that was a specific new idea that was relevant to the characters; instead he went for the poisonous cliche.

The romance between Alex the Lion and the Italian jaguar didn’t really work. (Don’t even get me started on the unnecessary bear romance.) The part where Alex clumsily pretends he knows how to do trapeze tricks and she copies him is both too long (in the sense that it’s painfully awkward and slows down the chase part of the plot) and too short (in the sense that it’s too rushed for a believable romance to develop).

The betrayal didn’t really work either. Somehow the lie that allowed the New York animals into the circus wasn’t enough of a central focus; there was too much else going on in the movie for it to matter. Then, it was both satisfying and annoying when Alex’s elaborate, random lie about his trapeze act comes true. I laughed when I saw that DuBois had been hurled into the reptile house and had let some water cobras loose, because I could see what was coming. But plot-wise, since Alex was coincidentally given the chance to execute his non-existent routine, does that mean he wasn’t lying? Or that it’s okay to lie because the universe will magically vindicate you? Or that the circus animals naively wound up believing the original lie? Any way you look at it, somehow the betrayal stings less, and it shouldn’t.

Vitaly the knife-throwing, fearful Russian tiger and DuBois (and that patriotic French song she sings) could have been left out and the story could just have been that the animals needed to travel home. The leopard could have been the downtrodden leader, and there could have been more plot about her relationship with Alex. The romance and the lie Alex told to convince her to let them join the circus would have seemed more significant. The very necessary ticking clock could have been something to do with the circus itself needing money to continue, or Alex needing to get back to the zoo at a particular time of year, not fear of some crazy woman from Monte Carlo animal control.

The most emotional moment was when the New Yorkers arrive in NYC and see their old home in the Central Park Zoo. Nothing that we are nostalgic for is ever as great as we remember it because we change, and because we glorify the past. That’s a hard truth, and the hardest hitting idea, happy or sad, in the whole mess of a movie.

If the penguins could buy a circus, why couldn’t they just have bought a plane (or a boat, or crates or something) to take them all to NYC? (The movie admits that the whole premise is bogus by raising this very issue.) And if Alex and friends could get to Monte Carlo without the penguins’ plane or their money, why couldn’t they just go back to North America without help, too?

On the other hand, the human/animal interaction somehow works in the movie (unlike in Turbo). The animals talk, but can’t be understood by humans. The humans talk, and can be understood by animals. The animals have to sneak around the humans or use disguises to interact with them because otherwise the humans freak out. Somehow, though, the humans aren’t freaked out by the all-animal circus, even when it’s flying through the air. I guess they assume people are running it.

The opening image was (either the penguins taking off in a plane or) all the characters old and feeble; the closing image is all the characters in clown hair. Not very thematic. Better would have been the characters looking down at the dusty, fake, boring, clay NYC and then the characters looking down from the flying circus at the real, exciting, living, breathing NYC.