I’m “biast” (pro): loved the first movie…
I’m “biast” (con): …but the second one, not so much, and the trailer failed to thrill me
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
It’s no Madagascar, which I appear to be virtually alone among my critical colleagues in seeing as a masterpiece — yeah, I said “masterpiece” — metaphor for and celebration of the marvelously civilizing affects of urban life. But Installment No. 3 in the franchise doesn’t suffer from the same problem No. 2 did, that uncomfortably schizophrenic attempt to toss out everything wise it had to say in the first film while simultaneously trying to re-create the same biological ecumenism that gave rise to that wisdom. Because, evincing another sort of wisdom, Europe’s Most Wanted doesn’t try to xerox its prior incarnations but instead reinvents itself. The result may be less philosophical than the original film, but it represents a sort of genius nevertheless.
The new Madagascar ethos? Sheer manic animated anarchy. If talking animals who get along across the predator-prey divide was unexpected, that now seems downright conventional next to the wonderful comic madness here, which starts with a Monte Carlo casino “heist” pulled off by Alex the lion (the voice of Ben Stiller: Tower Heist, Little Fockers), Marty the zebra (the voice of Chris Rock: What to Expect When You’re Expecting, 2 Days in New York), and the rest of the gang and just gets more frenzied and more funny from there. It’s as if the cool, smooth nonsense of the penguins’ outrageous schemes — yes, they’re back too — was allowed to take over the entire film, and it all balloons into something even the penguins couldn’t have concocted in their most fevered dreams of semimilitary pseudocriminal glory.
The Central Park Zoo team is still trying to get home to New York, of course, but now, after the Monte Carlo incident, they’re being chased across Europe by a French animal-control officer, Captain Chantel DuBois (the voice of Frances McDormand: Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Burn After Reading), who has the zeal of an Inspector Javert and the cunning of Sherlock Holmes and a dementedness all her own, and who instantly enters the annals of the great cartoon villains. Where can a band of animals hide in plain sight from such a lunatic? How about in a circus… a traveling circus on its way to, eventually, New York? That brings into the tale another unlikely family of animal friends to clash with Alex’s, and culminates in a deliciously insane, actually breathtaking new kind of circus that defies logic, defies gravity, and defies the viewer not to give in and be utterly enraptured by it.
I was enraptured, and there was no giving in about it. I was caught up from the beginning in the wild inventiveness that is all over Europe’s Most Wanted. This is a film that tickles and surprises both visually and intellectually: the punny smartness of the dialogue — as when Alex explains, when they visit the Roman Colosseum, how his ancestors “killed” before a “captive audience” there — is matched by the visceral exhilaration of the action: the casino escape is hilarious and thrilling. The smartest thing returning filmmakers Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath may have done here is bring in indie writer-director Noah Baumbach (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Margot at the Wedding) to help with the script. Baumbach’s bright edgy twistiness is all over this, and it’s just what the franchise needed kick it out of the rote blandness it had threatened to fall into after the previous film.