Still, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” has me delighting not in crow but in zebra, hippo, giraffe and, of course, lion. Not to mention happily devouring a menagerie of characters that includes lemurs, a tiger, a bear, a leopard, a sea lion and penguins.
Vivid, zippy and wisecrackingly enjoyable, this misadventure finds Central Park Zoo escapees Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) homesick for their New York City enclosures.
When last we saw them, their indefatigable penguin compatriots, led once again by Skipper (voice of co-director Tom McGrath), had left them in Africa as they and their chimp-powered plane set a course for a Mediterranean casino in Monte Carlo.
At the start of “Madagascar 3″ the foursome catch up with the penguins (who are sticking it to the house with the help of a bewigged chimp). They also attract the attention of Capitaine Chantel DuBois. Frances McDormand provides the voice and crazed energy of the out-of-control animal-control officer who wants a lion for her overcrowded trophy wall.
The chase is on and on and on. “Madagascar 3″ has zany, inventive hunts and escapes, candy-colored action and a winning soundtrack that makes fine use of Katy Perry’s self-esteem pick-me-up “Firework” and the weird, insta-classic of Marty the Zebra’s made-up ditty “Afro Circus.”
It’s such a silly premise and, initially, this second sequel looks like it’s merely going to be mad-dash fun.
That would have been more than enough for its target demo. But better than ever before, “Madagascar 3″ makes a persuasively dear argument for the power of friendship.
With the deep kinship of the original quartet firmly established, “Madagascar 3″ — penned with flair by co-director Eric Darnell and indie stalwart Noah Baumbach — expands its sphere of fondness, introducing a group of slightly defeated circus animals.
Bryan Cranston provides the gruff voice of Vitaly the Tiger, who doubts Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman are the circus performers they say they are. Gia (Jessica Chastain) is the sleek leopard who steps up for Alex and his cohort. Martin Short gives melancholy to the voice of Stefano, the bedraggled yet hopeful sea lion. Then there’s Sonya, a growling, tricycle-riding bear who finds an unlikely and persistent suitor in King Julien.
So fear not, lovers of lemurs. Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer and Andy Richter return to absurd affect as the movie’s fool of a ruler and his wiser, wide-eyed minions, Maurice and Mort.