If you haven’t seen the first two Madagascar movies, don’t worry—the plot of Madagascar 3 is extremely easy to understand. The movie opens in the African savannah, where New York zoo animals Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) complain of homesickness. Within minutes, they hatch a plan to get back to New York by swimming over to Monte Carlo and helping some penguins rob a casino. But the heist is a disaster, and pretty soon the animals find themselves in what has to be the longest chase sequence of all time. A hyper-competent female pest control agent is called to the scene (Frances McDormand as a French T-1000), immediately catches onto their scent, and it isn’t till millions of dollars of property damage has been inflicted on the city that she momentarily loses it. The chase scene culminates with the sudden appearance of a helicopter equipped with a banana-shooting machine gun, which is actually one of the 20-minute-long sequence’s more plausible touches.
Pretty soon the animals find themselves on a circus train. Since circus animals are able to get through customs more easily than non-circus animals, they decide to join the circus. The only problem: the circus they’ve joined is hopelessly incompetent. But the animals remain determined to get back to America, and so they resolve to put on a show that’s good enough that Americans will pay to see it. The rest of the movie is devoted to their increasingly elaborate and bizarre circus act.
You’d think that a movie that’s only 85 minutes long would be terse and tightly paced. But weirdly, Madagascar 3 feels just as bloated and overlong as any Transformers epic. This may have something to do with the fact that it features maybe 10 minutes worth of plot/character development and at least 75 minutes worth of loud, over-the-top spectacle. For small children with particularly severe cases of ADHD—an audience which the movie almost seems custom made for—this plot-to-spectacle ratio should be just about ideal. For adults, the constant sound and fury might grow a bit wearying. Luckily, there are enough flashes of wit strewn throughout to make the experience bearable. A bit where the French pest control officer revives her injured colleagues by singing “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rein” is particularly inspired.
Bottom Line: As far as plotless CGI action spectacles go, Madagascar 3 is better than most.