Review: Madagascar 3

(PG) ***

Director: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon.

Cast: (voices of) Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Frances McDormand, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Jessica Chastain.

COMPARED with the benchmark-setting exploits of Pixar, Dreamworks have usually run a patchy second.

They've had their hits (How To Train Your Dragon, the first two Shrek films) amid their misses (Shark Tale, the other Shrek movies) and somewhere in the middle sit the Madagascar movies.

Neither great nor totally rubbish (although Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa was largely forgettable), the antics of Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo have coasted by on a flurry of wacky humour and outrageous action sequences.

The same is true of number three in the series, which sees the four animals still keen to return to their New York zoo home, having been been stranded in Africa since the events of the second film.

After making their way from the heart of Africa to Monte Carlo (in ways that are never explained), the zany mammals must make their way through Europe in the hopes of somehow hitching a ride across the Atlantic.

But hot on their collective tails is the fanatical animal control officer DuBois (McDormand). Their only hope is to hide out with a travelling circus that is bound for London where it aims to impress an American promoter.

This third installment is certainly a step-up on part two and is possibly the best of the series. It's funny, frenetic, and has more of a message about sticking together and the joys of following your heart than the misguided ideals of the first film, which seemed to boil down to "don't eat your friends".

When Madagascar 3 fires with all barrels, it hits. The opening chase involving DuBois and her officer sidekicks in pursuit of a penguin-driven 4X4 through the streets of Monte Carlo seems to set the bar ridiculously high for the rest of the film, but the writers and animators top this by simply going even further over the top for an insane circus performance and an even more insane finale.

Insanity is key here, and while younger kids will enjoy many of the increasingly wacky antics, more discerning audiences may find it wearing a bit thin.

New characters add spice, particularly McDormand's French accented animal control officer and Bryan Cranston's Russian tiger, although Martin Short's sealion is annoying.

King Julien (Baron Cohen) once again gets many of the best lines, Rock does a great job at making up for Stiller's unfunniness, and the anatomically perplexing relationship between the giraffe and hippo thankfully doesn't get too much screen time.

It's still not in the realms of Kung Fu Panda or Shrek, but Madagascar 3 works because it knows its strengths and hits them repeatedly by being loud, frantic and dazzling.

But it doesn't have the emotional depth or staying power of the likes of Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, but it's diverting and enjoyable enough.

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