Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is a depressing film. Not because of its content, of course, which falls in line with your standard genteel, Saturday-morning-cartoon platitudes of believing in oneself. No, this film is depressing because it exists at all. It’s depressing to think about what Chris Rock’s career could—and probably should—have been while he’s screeching out one-liners as a talking zebra. It’s depressing that with an 8 percent unemployment rate, David Schwimmer is still hanging around Hollywood and making millions of dollars as the voice of an anthropomorphic giraffe. It’s depressing because Noah Baumbach (who directed the excellent The Squid and the Whale (2005), and co-wrote the even more excellent Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)) has a writing credit on this abominable thing.
And lastly, it’s depressing because it’s yet another Madagascar film, the final vestige of the post-Shrek world melding of family film and pop-culture overload. With part three, we get more of the same—and I mean that in the sense that Europe’s Most Wanted and its predecessors are completely interchangeable. The plot is a continuation of the second film, with our crew of talking zoo animals still trying to get to back to their home of Manhattan. This time they end up in France, and after being chased by a crazed animal-control agent (voiced by Francis McDormand), they high tail it through the European countryside by pretending to be circus animals.
The usual parade of hit-and-miss pop culture ephemera follows, and the humor mostly comes from throwing everything that could plausibly elicit a laugh against the wall and then seeing what sticks. Unfortunately, that wall must be coated in teflon, since we’re left with a film that’s mostly noise and static, resulting in an often frantic, overbearing picture. Really, if you’ve seen the previous Madagascar films, you know exactly what you’re getting. Sure, we get a more sophisticated visual style with some great use of color, but this is needless in a movie that has both Martin Short and Jessica Chastain affecting truly terrible French accents. (That studios need to pay tons of money to C-list American celebrities for bad foreign accents is a rant for another day.) All this is before we get to yet another screwdriver-to-the-ear end-credits rendition of “I Like to Move It.”
But none of this matters, really, since this isn’t so much a film as it is a franchise, and the only concern the studio has is the bottom line. Box office receipts and toy sales are what really matters, and through that lens, Madagascar 3 will be seen as a success. This also means that if you’re looking for anything more than a distraction for your 5-year-old tot, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. But—then again—you probably weren’t going to see this movie for any other reasons in the first place. Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.