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This is the rare animated property that has consistently improved on its ho-hum origins, as 2008's "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" delivered unexpectedly fine character shadings and a less grating sense of humor than the 2005 franchise-starter. Given an extra-loopy comic spin by scribes Noah Baumbach and Eric Darnell, "Madagascar 3" places a higher value on speed and spectacle than either of its predecessors, piling on the narrative lunacy to outlandish, even surreal ends.


Stuck in Africa, the Madagascar menagerie are still jonesing to get back to the little Central Park zoo they once called home. When best buds penguins and chimps take off in their Rube Goldberg flying machine, destination Monte Carlo, the gang of four -- Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) -- snorkel their way over to the Riviera.


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.


Third in the lucrative series, this European adventure grabs you up for a brightly colored, fast-action odyssey full of energy and pizzazz -- and never lets go. Three-dimensional effects are integral in "Madagascar 3," climaxing in a spectacularly surreal laser light show under the Biggest Top ever. All in all, a "Mad"-cap romp that plays it straight, generating warmhearted laughs for kids rather than piling up nonstop popcult allusions and innuendo for the pleasure of snickering adults.


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.

kingfisher backstage