The quick-quipping critters who escaped from the Central Park Zoo fashion a Euro crisis of their own

One big, frantic Euro crisis, with animals

The quick-quipping critters who escaped from the Central Park Zoo fashion a Euro crisis of their own, embarking on a third adventure in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

Rated: G

The quick-quipping critters who escaped from the Central Park Zoo fashion a Euro crisis of their own, embarking on a third adventure in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

The pace is even more frenetic than the first two flicks as team leader Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), wisecracking zebra Marty (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and her nervous giraffe crush Melman (David Schwimmer), plus preening lemur egomaniac King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) try once more to get back to their cushy life in Manhattan after being stranded in various locales by the hilariously larcenous penguin crew.

Their first stop is the casino at Monte Carlo where the chimps are doing their best to break the bank and the zebra cracks one of the best jokes of the gag-larded script. The gang hotfoots it out of town by hopping a circus train with French animal control legend Capt. Chantel DuBois (Francis McDormand), a gal with a fondness for Edith Piaf and taxidermy prizes, literally sniffing their trail.

Cultures clash as the Yanks try to wheedle their way into the Euro circus club to wait for the heat to blow over, with Alex making bold claims about their big-top skills to foul-tempered Russian tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) and sexy Italian trapeze jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain). Martin Short is adorable as the slow-witted, lovable sea lion Stefano (Stefano), whose wide-eyed enthusiasm for “circus” is only matched by his astonishing stupidity.

Alex’s plan to revitalize the worn-out show with a new kind of animal-focused circus — take that, Cirque du Soleil, with your human performers — doesn’t sit with Vitaly, who harbours a dark secret that makes him surly as a cat with a sore paw. But slinky Gia is game and so is Marty, who comes up with a new look and a jingle for his Afro Circus act that kids will sing repeatedly on the way home.

Parents: be warned.

Romance fills the mountain air as the animals rehearse, Cupid’s arrow even targeting blowhard King Julien, who hooks up with a tutu-wearing, miniature tricycle-riding bear. But will taking the act to London get the attention of an American promoter who will both help the Madagascar gang get back home and allow the Euro performers to realize a dream?

Bigger, busier and louder than the previous two installments, the addition of 3D doesn’t add much, except to muddy the brilliant computerized colours. Save the money, see it in 2D.

Unfortunately, that same computer work makes the big production number set to Katy Perryís Firework more of a repetitive, precision-timed drag than a showstopper. Somebody left the whimsy out when they dialed up the fancy-pants effects.

Aided by a pop-filled soundtrack (and a couple of Canadian jokes), the movie zooms along at a clip so quick, it sometimes overwhelms. It’s colourful, mostly forgettable entertainment that takes an interesting twist as the endgame plays out, inspired not by the borscht-belt comics that provide the thigh slapper-style lines, but Thomas Wolfe.

Getting home is one thing, finding it another.

Linda Barnard is a syndicated movie critic with the Toronto Star.

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