‘Madagascar 3’ is a blast, while ‘Rock of Ages’ fizzles.
If you had told me that the second sequel in an animated film series would blow away Tom Cruise having fun playing a pampered rock superstar, I would have been highly skeptical.
However, the quartet of city zoo animals that were mildly entertaining in Madagascar (2005) and less so in Madagascar: Escape to Africa (2008), have been given a shot of sharper writing, thanks to the participation of screenwriter Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and a fabulous new villain, making Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, the best film in the series by far.
The foursome from the New York Central Zoo, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are still stuck in Africa. However, they decide to be pro-active and travel to Monte Carlo to track down the penguins, who have apparently left them behind for good. The film doesn’t bother to show us how the foursome gets to Monte Carlo, as the real action starts when they arrive.
Once they hook up again with the penguins and the monkeys and the lemurs, and make a crash landing in a posh casino, the fun begins. That is when the icy and determined Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) of Animal Control is put on the case. She will confirm all your worse nightmares from animal control officers since she is delighted with the opportunity to bag a lion head for her trophy wall.
In one magnificent chase sequence, the filmmakers, Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon, pay tribute to The Matrix, one of the moments that will endear this movie to the grownups in the audience. McDormand’s determined Captain DuBois is the best animal hating villain in a movie since Glenn Close’s Cruella De Vil.
Our zoo mates manage to escape by hiding on a circus train, where they meet another group of delightful critters, including a less-than-friendly Russian tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), a cheetah named Gia (Jessica Chastain) and the hilarious Italian sea lion Stefano (the always vocally inventive Martin Short).
From there the movie becomes an explosion of fun and color and exciting action. While Alex and his pals have been hoping to go home, what they find out is that once you’ve been let out of a cage and tasted the life outside the confines of a zoo, it is hard to feel satisfied back behind bars.
With a combination of superb animation and vocal work, and a terrific story that has an equal amount of enchantment for both little ones and grownups, Madagascar 3 is both a visual feast and loaded with hearty laughter.
You’ll Want to Stone This ‘Rock’
Despite a mildly entertaining performance by Tom Cruise as a pampered, sexed-up and boozy rock idol in Rock of Ages, this screen adaptation of the Broadway musical is a major disappointment, coming as it does from director Adam Shankman, who did such a fabulous job bringing Hairspray to the big screen. I didn’t see the original show (which is coming to Caesars for a run Aug. 14), but your average music video has more visually interesting moments than most of the big musical moments in this bland, forgettable film. Also, while I’ll admit that Julianne Hough is an attractive enough young performer with some talent, I don’t understand this desire to turn her into a new musical star (she was also in the remake of Footloose). She lacks star quality. Two performers with star quality most of the time, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, are also around, with bad wigs, as the owners of the sunset strip rock club where most of the action takes place. They are the designated comic relief but they aren’t given very much that’s amusing. For the record the by-the-book rock’n’roll love story features the hits of Journey, Night Ranger, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Asia, Whitesnake and more.And while Cruise can sing, that is not enough to save the movie.
My fellow film critics and I tend to use previous films of a similar genre to compare and contrast the worthiness of the latest entry in that genre. However, when your film is titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, there isn’t much hope of finding a similar effort for a side by side comparison.