The third in the frantic trilogy of shipwrecked zoo animals and in some ways the best. A fun ride filled with colour to excite its target audience of children but with enough intelligent comedy in places to amuse the older crowd also.
It’s a huge step up from the second which lacked any real charm and seemed to put a tranquiliser dart in the joy of the characters we loved from the first film. This runaway roadtrip style movie sees Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria decide to leave the endlessness of Africa and head back to their Central Park home, a hurried escape onto a moving circus train changes their plans though and boosts a sense of excitement into the franchise.
The circus idea is a simple but effective one and having more interesting characters introduced makes the film more engaging. It gives the notion that we will see spectacle and poses another question for Alex the leader to where his home really is. This circus fuelled backdrop gives us the chance to see mad performances from new animals and see our gang of four step up to the challenge too, though in a neat twist it’s the circus that comes together to save Alex and the others and not vice versa. I believe the look of this story provided more than the last two and in that way it sits head and shoulders above them, this and the gleeful touches that catch the eye such as Maurice smirking when he thinks King Julian is dead, Mort singing like a creepy child from a horror movie when they enter the bear carriage, Vitaly the Russian tiger nearly cursing as he speaks Russian and the penguins in general adding to the chaos.
The script is thick and fast and at times feels too fast to carry the film along for the young audience, but exchanges like Alex answering Stefano’s questions ending with him saying in a way Ales was never really his name is brilliantly timed, so too with Alex near the beginning for his birthday, telling his three friends that they have both made and ruined his day, top notch deadpan delivery that made the line even funnier. These moments and others distract from the fact it’s shuttling through at sometimes giddy speed. The voice casting helps the script come alive with Ben Stiller bringing more charming arrogance to Alex the Lion, there’s less of Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer which is a shame as they’re good characters, as in introducing the circus team they lose more screen time. Martin Short as Stefano the Italian sea lion is silly and dim but lovable, Bryan Cranston provides mucho gusto with a Russian accent to a gruff tiger with an inevitable bad luck past and a predictable turnaround. Then there’s Frances McDormand as DuBois, the best of the best in animal control and I think her cue was to ham it up as she certainly does, seeming to break through the cartoon and beyond with her unstoppable character.
The best thing about this film is that it felt like it was heading to a rest, a nice stop for the series and I’d be happy with this ending for the trilogy as it’s fun and ultimately heartwarming, the imagery of the animal control crew in crates mirrors the first film, the final saving coming to life to spark truth in Alex’s trapeze Americano is brilliant and the laser infused show of the animals giving it all in London looks like some delicious cartoon acid trip which probably took some effort to animate and pays off in looking crazy and superb.
I only had problems with certain things being too far fetched, I know it’s a cartoon and you give that it’s due but some animations still rely on reality to tell the story. I’m splitting hairs here but Marty flying was silly and there’d be no rainbow, the whole jumping through hoops thing was ridiculous and it could have been something else that made him lose the passion and however visually great the London show looked, it never would have happened, where did that new spiralling set, the rings and tent even come from…the penguins had no money left! There was something at least a bit more believable in the first film, it was more driven by character and less by spectacle so in that way the first is better. Also the mainstream songs over the top felt out of place, from Katy Perry to Yolanda Be Cool and Dcup. The Edith Piaf segment with Dubois was also odd and unnecessary. I also have a problem with King Julian in general and mirror Maurice’s face in his role still landing more time than better, less annoying characters and the entire bear and lemur subplot was boring.
All in all this third offering ramps up the wonder in visuals and entertainment, by doing so leaving the investing story factor until pretty much the last 10-15 minutes. A solid animation with legs to stand on and pretty much level with the first film.