Sneak Peek – Madagascar 3

Perhaps because of my Disney deprivation as a kid, I enjoy going to the advanced screenings for animated movies. They are usually early on a Saturday and the movies are short, so I can squeeze in the film and still have the rest of my day to do whatever I want. And in my experience, the children in attendance tend to be better behaved than a lot of the adults I encounter at other screenings. I consider myself more of a fan of the Pixar films, but when a screening for Madagascar 3 came along on a rainy Saturday, I decided to go. I had seen the first film, but not the second, so I was vaguely aware of the characters and their origin story but not overly familiar with franchise. I wasn’t really sure, for example, why people were singing “I like to move it, move it” to this little guy at the Dallas zoo:

Lemur King?

When it comes to reviewing these types of films, my main guideline is pretty easy – could an adult sit through the film and not want to kill themselves? I’ve heard tales of the horrible children’s movies and programs that my friends with kids have had to sit through for the sake of their little ones; Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked! has drawn particular ire. I’m well aware that I am not their target demographic, but if I can sit through it and somewhat enjoy it, all the better for them. If the adults like the movie, or can at least tolerate it, then they are more likely to take the kids to see it multiple times and buy the DVDs more readily. Personally I hope my (hypothetical) kid comes out of the womb ready for Tarantino and Scorsese, but that is probably too much to hope for. By these standards, Madagascar 3 was partially successful; it wasn’t a drag to sit through, but I really have no desire to ever see it again. It was mildly entertaining, but clearly a step down from what I consider the “gold standard” of children’s animation, Up and the Toy Story franchise.

Madagascar 3 picks up with the gang of Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) still stuck in Africa and dreaming of returning to their zoo in New York City. They get as far as Monte Carlo, where they meet up with some of the other animals, before their plan unravels and they catch the attention of the local animal control officer who has designs on mounting Alex’s head on her wall of taxidermy. In order to evade capture, the crew takes refuge in the only place where they can blend in – a rag tag traveling circus. The circus just might make it to New York City if they can reinvent their act and help the troubled Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston) recapture his passion for performing, all while the law is in hot pursuit.

While there was a lot going on in the film, none of it was very exciting and a lot of the action seemed a little forced. The constant pursuit by the animal control officer across Europe was especially problematic. That character reminded me of a poor person’s Cruella de Vil. And apparently the civil servants in Europe have a much larger budget than we do here for her to be able to chase these animals throughout the continent. It was just too over the top, even for a cartoon. Even the scenes with the circus were fairly lackluster; the only time that the movie really came alive was during the ridiculously gravity defying circus performance. It was visually pretty stunning, but your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about Katy Perry’s song “Firework.” I have no beef with the song per se – I like pop music – but I just think that song has been WAY too overused in pop culture.

Surprisingly, the one thing that was really missing from the movie was humor. While the action and plot of animated film is mainly targeted at the younger segment of the audience, there are usually quite a few jokes and gags thrown in for the grownups in the theater that the little ones may or may not even get. But I don’t remember really chuckling during Madagascar 3. There just weren’t a lot of jokes, even for the kids. The theater was surprisingly quiet throughout the film, while usually there is the general murmur as the kids respond to what was on the big screen. I watched their reactions as we were filing out of the theater and while the children seemed to enjoy the film, there wasn’t the joy or excitement that I’ve seen after other screenings. Maybe even at 5 you can tell when a movie has kind of phoned it in.

Honestly, the worst part of the whole experience was having to put up with the trivia contest before the screening. The trivia in and of itself wasn’t terrible, but they had local “celebrity” Lights Camera Jackson host it and that kid is like nails on a chalkboard to me. If you aren’t familiar with him, he’s a kid movie reviewer who  does weekly reviews for one of the regional channels. He’s appeared on the Today show and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He is so over-coached and stylized that he has lost all semblance of being a kid. He is what I assume is the equivalent of a pageant kid, with his forced gestures and weird speaking cadence. This kid seriously annoys me, but he is getting older and is losing the “cute kid” shtick, so perhaps my days of having to endure him are coming to an end. And yes, I do feel some guilt about wanting to punch a 12 year old in the face. End rant.

Madagascar 3 isn’t a chore to sit through, but it wasn’t all that enjoyable either. As an adult, it didn’t win me over, but I certainly could endure it for the children in my life. I happy for its existence solely because, as a former fan of Friends, it’s nice to see David Schwimmer get some work. Overall it was pretty harmless, though there is the potential for annoyance with this particular scene:

If your kids latch on to that and repeat it, that is going to get old pretty quickly. Fair warning – they return to it a few times in the movie. Chris Rock, I love you, but you are going to hell for contributing this to society. Someone has already put together a 10 minute looped version of the song on YouTube as some sort of endurance challenge. I got through 2 minutes before I had to turn it off, but the stupid thing was stuck in my head for hours afterward. It was a much less pleasant earworm than the song “Call Me Maybe.”

If your kids want to go see Madagascar 3, you won’t be in agony. I do think this franchise has run out of steam. It just wasn’t a whole lot of fun. But if it makes the kids happy, so be it.

Madagascar 3 opens nationwide on Friday June 8th.