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I’ve always identified the Madagascar series alongside the Ice Age films. The comparisons are very obvious but with the release of the third picture in Dreamworks’ franchise it seems that the successes of each series reflect one another. Both started out with a fun and quirky debut that led to a limp follow up and now, like Ice Age 3 which was better than its predecessor, the third Madagascar marks a clear improvement on the second. Not that this is necessarily the sign of a great movie. The Madagascar films have always felt like second tier fare next to Dreamworks’ best efforts and while Europe’s Most Wanted is an improvement it still can’t hold a candle to the likes of Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.

The continuing efforts of our quartet of zoo critters (Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo and Melman the giraffe, plus hangers-on) to make it back to New York lead them inexplicably to Monaco where they fall foul of a psychotic animal control officer and are forced to board a travelling circus train to escape. As luck would have it the circus is prepping for an important show that will be viewed by an American circus promoter affording the animals a golden opportunity to return to the big apple at last.

If you’ve seen the previous Madagascar films you should know what to expect, a lot of madcap high jinks involving various eccentric creatures slapsticking their way through a largely nonsensical plot. It’s just as noisy and obnoxious as before and if you’re nauseated by this kind of high-energy, colour crazy sugar high you’re probably best advised to stay away; you’ll encounter nothing to change your mind. Those of us capable of making the best of this kind of insanity will appreciate the better variety and well-conceived scenarios to fit with the animation style on show here. The clear highlight comes early on with a frenetic, dazzling chase sequence to rival the best slapstick scenes of Kung Fu Panda 2 as the ninja-like Captain Dubois hunts the heroes at high speed through the streets (and skies above) Monaco breaking out some hilarious scooter tricks in a sequence rich in visual invention. You could be forgiven for thinking you’re onto a real winner at this point but sadly the film never reaches the same heights.

Which is not to say it’s a total loss. The idea of the travelling circus serves the scenario perfectly and affords plenty of opportunity for nutso scenes involving cockney-accented mutts dressed as clowns, bears on motorcycles and sea-lions being shot out of cannons. The downside is that it all just plays out as a series of thematic sketches rather than anything with any semblance of narrative pacing or tension. Captain Dubois’ early threat fizzles out and the raft of new characters somewhat absorb the screen time for all of the original foursome except Alex.

At least the animation is top quality boasting crisper, brighter visuals than ever to make the most of the decidedly cartoonish style. Despite the fact that I’ve never been the biggest fan of this bonkers approach to animation it’s hard to love this medium and not maintain a certain appreciation for it, particularly on a technical level. If you liked the first two Madagascar films chances are you’ll like this one just as much. In an era of animation that produces such emotionally satisfying work as ParaNorman it’s easy to glance on Madagascar 3’s cartoonishness with contempt but sometimes you just have to appreciate a film for how well it does what it’s trying to do.

Verdict

Another loud, over-exuberant and downright daft entry in a formula series but a decent example of the childishly absurd.

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