I am a fan of animation, always have been. I am definitely looking forward to Disney/Pixar’s “Brave” in another couple of weeks. Two years ago three of my favorite ten films of the year were animated. So I can say this without much prejudice, when it came to seeing Madagascar 3,it was big yawn time. These is something about this series that just does not work for me. The voice actors and visuals and music are fine, but I know exactly what it is that misses for me here, story. This series is about jokes and contemporary references and visual gags, but it has almost no heart. In the current film there is a weak effort to have an emotional pull, but in the end it does not resonate.
The music sequences are the one segment of the film that seems to work. In the original movie, everyone seems to remember the lemur dance to “Move it, Move It”. That is just about all that I remember of the film. There was a second movie and I am pretty sure I saw it, but I could be wrong because other than building a plane in the jungle, I remember nothing about it. I planned on skipping this version in the theaters and probably seeing it on one of my movie channels next winter, but I got sold on it by a song. Usually Chris Rock is just annoying and loud. His humor is not my cup of tea so it was with a bit of surprise that I found I wanted to see the movie because of the “Circus Song” he does in the commercial. I got played. It was a funny bit, but I basically have seen it all since it was in the trailer.
Most of the musical sequences involve past songs being visualized as music videos for kids. The use of Katy Perry’s “Firework” was a pleasant few minutes but it added nothing to the original song and was mostly an excuse for the animators to use some vivid colors and wild graphic illustrations to fill a few minutes of the film. It looked from the credits that much of the work had been done by illustrators from India. That may account for the different look of the film and the color palate for a lot of the sequences.
Basically, it is the same story as the earlier movies. The four main characters are trying to get back to the Central Park Zoo in New York City. That’s it. Now all the writers have to do is create some contrivance to put them into a new local, introduce some new characters, find a main villain, and presto instant storyline. Except that the main characters in this movie never come to life as individual characters. There is a mild emotional story about a circus that they join which has seen better days, but it rushes through all of the background that could set up that emotional journey and just gives us the Cliff notes version. Again with no character development. The film makers are trying to rely on voice casting and the art work to create character and it is not enough. The new characters need to have personality, and the personalities of the old characters need to make some kind of journey of self discovery. Neither of these happen in a satisfying manner. The new circus characters are shallow, and only the Ben Stiller voiced lion Alex is given much of an emotional arc, and it is so perfunctory that it was hardly worth it.
I did not care for the villain character at all. She is so lacking in personality that it is a wonder they hired the great Francis McDormand to play her. The only characteristic she has is relentlessness. Usually a character like this would have a series of frustrating gags that blocked her path to success, but there were no gags involving her character. Only some of her underlings get a chance for comic relief. It is a little odd having such a fearsome, single minded killer without any humorous characteristics as the foil in a kids story.
The music sequences are satisfactory, the animation is adequate, and the movie is competently put together, but it just kind of lays there. We saw it in 2D and I noticed several scenes and actions that were clearly staged for a 3D experience. Maybe that would have made my assessment a little more positive, but it could not solve the problem at the center of this movie. It has no heart, you don’t really care what happens in the end, and when it is over, you won’t remember much except a couple of visual images and snatches of pop tunes.