Picking up directly where the last sequel left off — except there's no mention of Alex's parents — 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted' is another misadventure with our favorite quartet of runaways from the Central Park Zoo (Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith reprise their familiar roles). Fans of the first two films will find this third installment a satisfying chapter, if not a winning conclusion, to the animals' endless quest of making it back home to New York. Others might think it the same old, same old with several good chuckles sprinkled throughout. Personally, this animated voyage out of Africa through the streets of Monte Carlo Quarter and aboard a circus train is probably the best of the bunch. With a great deal more heart at its center and full of the same colorful charisma as the other two, the script by Eric Darnell, who also serves as co-director, and Noah Baumbach, director of the wonderful 'The Squid and the Whale,' delivers with a heartwarming message of "home is where the heart is."
The filmmakers this time around amp up the energy level, transporting viewers from a mud miniature of New York City to the shores of the French Riviera with a simple scene change. How exactly a lion, a zebra, a giraffe and a hippo covered such a vast distance with King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) in tow is never explained? (If it was that easy, why not attempt it sooner and save everyone two sequels?) Nevertheless, once there, the group crashes the famed casino and stirs a fiasco that requires the services of a relentless, determined animal control officer, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). The frenzied, high-speed chase with a fossil-fuel guzzler and a quintet of red mopeds that soon follows but also seems to last forever pretty much sets the dictum for the rest of the movie — a rapid, hurried pace with a spectacular finish.
DuBois's unyielding pursuit of the motley gang is part of the reason the story moves with such haste, forcing them, now with the always charming penguins tagging along, to join a failing circus. The other reason is likely due to the shorten attention span of younger viewers, which I'm sad to report also seems to be working with the adults as well. In either case, the DuBois character is a nice touch balancing mildly suspenseful action pieces with good hearty laughs at her expense. After a silly 'Matrix'-like shootout with bananas, her resolute personality makes her an amusingly interesting villain, if somewhat scary at times, with a hidden marvelous talent for belting out Edith Piaf's "Non, Je ne regrette rien." Her just deserts arrive not only with gratifying results but also while in the middle of a stupendous extravaganza of color and feats relating to an earlier joke.
The one moment where the story finally stops for a short breather is also an opportunity to flesh out a trio of circus animals dealing with their own problems. The main act is a Siberian tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), who's developed a form of stage fright after a fiery accident left him hairless. Stefano the Italian sea lion (Martin Short) doesn't really have much talent, but his cheerful desire to entertain leads him to discover his real passion of being shot out of a canon, which as it turns out is also Marty's (Rock) passion. Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) doesn't seem to have any issues but is an overly confident and protective feline that soon becomes Alex's love interest. Our heroes' time with the circus is one gag after another, delivered at lightning speed, while the subplot of financial woes and following one's heart slowly comes to light.
Like many of the CG-animated movies from DreamWorks, the 'Madagascar' films don't pose much of a challenge to the excellence of Pixar, although 'Cars 2' and to some degree 'Brave' has me sometimes rethinking that sentiment. Nonetheless, the studio has continuously being churning out plenty of entertaining yarns, and this latest installment to the popular franchise is no different, offering an unexpected yet substantial twist to the gang's journey home. I was already enjoying the splendid visuals and lighthearted humor (Marty's afro-circus gag just cracks me up) before Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman are suddenly allowed a different point of view of their former concrete home, followed by the dispiriting effects of their return. It all ends with a feast for the eyes spectacle that brings a smile and a feeling of everything coming full circle, finally discovering the home the quartet has being searching for.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted' to 3D Blu-ray as a three-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy and a cardboard slipcover. The first two discs are Region Free, BD50s on a flipper panel while the other is a DVD-9 copy sitting comfortable on the opposing panel. At startup, viewers can enjoy a skippable trailer and a couple promos before switching to a standard main menu with music and full-motion clips.
'Madagascar 3' debuts onto 3D Blu-ray with a spectacular, stupendous and sensational 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode. Right from the get-go during Alex's dream, the faces and noses of characters burst through the screen and often dangle inside the living room. Melman's elongated face, in particular, does this to great effect quite a bit thanks to his long neck. The car chase in Monte Carlo is one the most exciting because objects occasionally fly all over the place with every explosion and threaten to smack you in the face. But aside from the several gimmicks, the presentation comes with astonishing depth and dimensionality, as separation of the background from the foreground is consistent throughout. Much of the picture has a fantastic pop-up book effect with a convincing sense of space and distance, making this CG animated film a stunner to watch in 3D.
The 1.78:1 image is simply jaw-dropping from start to finish with razor-sharp lines in Alex's mane, the baroque architecture of the Monte Carlo casino and the rope holding the circus tent tightly together. I was most taken aback by the lifelike texture around the faces of many characters, particularly during close-ups. Individual hairs sway and move with impressive realism, and Captain DuBois's uniform is distinct with visible threading and stitching. The most trivial detail, tiny nuance or particularity in the background is as sharply-defined as any object in the foreground, and minor blemishes like the rust on the airplane or the smallest scratch on the train cars are plainly perceptible.
The rest of the high-def transfer is a dazzling feast for the eyes, full of vibrant colors that never sway. Primaries are sumptuous with vividly rich saturation, giving the movie an energized, happily-go-lucky feel that's consistent right from the first opening moments. Secondary pastel hues are also brimming with a boldness that further add to the story's lighthearted humor and gives each character a life of their own. Contrast is right on the money and crisp with shiny, bright whites everywhere, making the video leap out of the screen. Black levels are inky and luxuriant with spotless gradations between the lighter and darker portions. The big circus act after a bit Alex's training, as well as the grand finale at the zoo, are the highlights which best demonstrate the quality of the picture, an extensive mixture of blacks, neon colors, shadow details and ultra-high contrast.
Aside from one barely perceptible and easily forgivable moment of banding (during the finale at the zoo), this final entry in the franchise is simply fantastic.
The previous two movies hit Blu-ray with great soundtracks, but never really presented much of a challenge to one's audio system. This third installment finally changes that with a splendid, demo-worthy Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track that serves as the perfect complement to the jaw-dropping video. The rears are used often for ambient effects, like the soothing sounds of the wilderness, the bustling noise of the city or the excited cheers of spectators. Panning and directionality are flawless, creating a marvelously immersive 360° soundfield. Once again, the circus acts are a terrific highlight as characters fly overhead, fireworks explode in the back of the room or objects whiz by on either side of the listener.
Imaging is immaculate with fluid movement between the channels, generating a broad soundstage with excellently discrete off-screen effects. Dynamics are expansive and far-reaching, defining the highs and mids with perfect crystal clarity. This is most appreciable during the action sequences as an assortment of sounds is employed to keep things entertaining and exciting. The low-end is generally of the mid-bass variety, but it's full-bodied and persuasive with plenty of nice hearty moments. Dialogue is well-prioritized and intelligible amid the chaos and laughter, making this a highly-engaging and fun lossless mix.
Supplemental materials are shared with the day-and-date DVD release.
Finally bringing the journey back home full circle, 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted' is a hilarious eye-dazzler, bursting with energy and a great deal of heart. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith reprise their roles and make a few new friends in Martin Short, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain and Frances McDormand. It's a fun new addition to the quartet's misadventures back to New York and arguably the best of the franchise. The Blu-ray arrives with reference quality video and a spectacular audio presentation. Supplements are shared with its DVD counterpart, but a few new exclusives make this high-def edition of the movie highly recommended.