Skip to main content

I never thought I'd say this on American soil, but the Rooskie's right.


Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
(2012)

Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath have shown remarkable dedication to their escaped zoo animal animated franchise, returning to steer each of the sequels (here joined by Conrad Vernon). As such, the formula is tried and tested; bring back the four main players (Stiller, Rock, Schwimmer, Pinkett Smith), let the support steal the best gags (Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, McGrath as the penguin leader), ensure there are multiple hyperbolic set pieces and sprinkle liberally atop all of this a number of Euro-cheese dance tracks. Oh, and don’t forget to include a dollop of sentiment/moralising.

This is the DreamWorks formula, and whether it is more or less successful creatively it usually pays off in box office. Indeed, careening from this path hasn’t enamoured their shareholders (see Rise of the Guardians), although it could be argued that if they tried to stretch themselves a bit more they’d have more critical successes like How to Train Your Dragon. Madagascar 3 is perfectly serviceable and often very funny, but it’s largely indistinguishable from the previous installments (I say that having enjoyed both of them, which is just as well as they seem to be shown on a loop on TV).

This time round, the quarter follow the penguins and monkeys to Monte Carlo (it appears that they got there just by swimming, whereas the penguins flew by plane; given the travel difficulties established later in the film, it’s just as well this is glossed over) to persuade them to return to New York. Almost immediately they are subject to the unwanted attention of Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand, excellent) an Animal Control officer who has been amusingly rendered as both ungainly of body and super-agile. It’s unfortunate that the highlight of Madagascar 3 is the breathless, hilarious chase sequence that takes up the first 20 minutes. It’s *****-star entertainment, and one of the studio’s greatest achievements to date.

After that, alas, things turn fairly run-of-the-mill. The characters join a travelling circus, and of course there are lessons to be learned, friendships to be tested and Animal Control to be dodged.

The main guest vocals all acquit themselves splendidly; Bryan Cranston is Vitaly the Russian hoop-diving tiger, Jessica Chastain plays a rather sexy leopard and Martin Short is an endearingly dim sea lion, Stefano. Nevertheless, as usual it’s Sacha Baron Cohen’s lemur who steals the film. Julien’s romance with a performing bear is both ridiculous and delightful. Elsewhere the penguins’ strategies are ever-inventive, but the prize ruse must go to the monkeys disguised as the King of Versailles.

Enjoyable as the Madagascars are, they should really probably call it a day on the franchise now. The anarchic impulses of the supporting characters tend to be balanced by the more melodramatic pursuits of the leads (albeit, Rock’s zebra usually gets to embrace the crazy) and there doesn’t seem to be much place left to take the former (particularly with the finale taking place in New York).

It’s fashionable to embrace Pixar and deride DreamWorks, but nothing is that simple. The first Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon rank with the very best CGI animation and, while Dreamworks’ tendency to sequelise is lowest common denominator, Pixar has now followed exactly the same pattern. I wasn’t all that taken with the Kung Fu Pandas, but I’d watch them any day over Cars and Cars 2. Perhaps the best compliment I can give the Madagascar series is that when I inevitably find one showing on the box I give it at least a couple of minutes before switching over.

***

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.