Ben Stiller's Alex the lion reviews "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" so we don't have to.
Halfway into the third animated tale about New York City zoo animals on their overseas adventures, Alex tells some new circus friends that their act was not too entertaining for families "because you were just going through the motions out there."
So, too, for "Madagascar 3," which goes through a lot of motions -- explosions of action and image so riotously paced that they become narcotic and numbing.
With Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, creators of the first two "Madagascar" flicks, joined by a third director in Conrad Vernon ("Shrek 2"), the filmmakers just can't stop stuffing things, to the point of distraction, into "Europe's Most Wanted."
The result: a cute story about zoo animals running off to join the circus becomes overwhelmed by a blur of color and animated acrobatics. The pictures certainly are pretty, but the filmmakers apparently are unwilling to risk the slightest lapse of audience attention, so they put the movie on fast-forward and let centripetal force hurtle viewers along from start to finish.
"Madagascar 3" opens with Alex and zoo pals Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) still stuck in Africa, dreaming of their return to New York.
Along with lemur king Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his flunky (Cedric the Entertainer), they follow Skipper (voiced by co-director McGrath) and his wily penguin cohorts to the casinos of Monte Carlo, hoping to hitch a ride home.
The journey from Africa to Europe just happens, with no explanation, begging the question, how much harder would it be for the gang to find its way back to New York on its own? But that's the sort of thinking for which the filmmakers aim to leave no time.
The critters raise a ruckus at the casino, setting vile French animal-control officer Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) on their tail. The animals may be as cuddly as ever, but the design of Chantel is creepy in an off-putting way; she's like an early take on "101 Dalmatians" heavy Cruella De Vil, discarded by Walt Disney out of sheer repugnance.
On the run from Chantel, the animals take refuge aboard a circus train, where they team up with Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short).
The circus may prove the gang's ticket home, but only if they can turn the act into a dazzler. From this point on, "Madagascar 3" mostly is a cartoon kaleidoscope, filled with blinding pyrotechnics and impossible gymnastics that Cirque du Soleil could only dream about.
The animation is grand, and the lovely images may be enough to send really young kids away happy. Their parents might leave feeling they've been taken in by some carny sleight-of-hand, though.
"Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," a DreamWorks Animation release distributed by Paramount, is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor. Running time: 92 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.