Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted [2012]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-1)  Bill Zwecker (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Bill Zwecker's review -

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon, screenplay by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach) is, for an American (Hollywood) production, a generally okay kids' affair.

I say "for an American/Hollywood production" because American/Hollywood comedies generally still need villains, someone or someones at whose expense jokes are made.  In the case of Madagascar 3, the jokes are made at the expense of a hapless French female Gandarme named Captain Chantal DuBois (voiced by Frances McDormand) -- aren't the French _always_ "hapless?" -- and to some extent at the expense of a sullen Russian accented Siberian tiger named Vitaly (voiced by Bryan Cranston) -- aren't Russians always sullen/bitter sounding?  (Actually, even the selection of Mde Gendarme's last name as "DuBois" is rather strange and at best unfortunate, because African American lawyer/statesman W.E.B. DuBois had been a towering figure in the African American community in the latter part of the 1800s / early 1900s in the United States and was one of the founders of the NAACP.  More on the film's somewhat strange treatment of Africa and African-American actors below...). So in the midst of the laughs, there's the message intended presumably for American audiences (I can't imagine that this film would go over very well in France or in Russia) that the French are losers and the Russians are bitter (presumably because "we beat them" in the Cold War ... ).

Now the question could be asked -- don't comedies have to have _some_ villains?  Even It's a Wonderful Life [1946] had the rich-banker Mr. Potter as the villain.  (Villains are not necessarily chosen by "right wingers."  The Left is also quite adept at creating them as well ...).  However I'd like to suggest that the Italians, for instance, have proven capable of creating successful comedies with _no_ discernible villains.  Two recent examples that I reviewed on this blog are Immaturi [2011] and Habemus Papam [2011].  But we Americans seem to need to see "Bugs Bunny hit Elmer Fudd over the head with a 2x4" and then we laugh.  I just offer this observation to ask why this should be and to note that creating villains is probably "bad for business."  Again, I would imagine that Madagascar 3 would probably _not_ be an easy sell in France or in Russia...

... or for that matter among some African Americans or in Africa.  Why?  Well the whole premise of this movie is that Freedom in Africa is boring and it is better to live In a Cage (In the Zoo) in New York.  The movie begins with Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) waking-up panicky after a dream in which he saw himself dieing all alone, in a boring drought-stricken black-and-white desert in Africa and thinking how much better it was to, yes, live in a cage, but be the "center of attention" in the Zoo back in New York.  When he tells his dream to others, the rest of his animal friends agree, and so then they decide to go back to New York (via Monte Carlo/Europe).  And much, of course, ensues ...

Now there are African American performers in the movie.  There's Gloria the Hippo (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith) and Marty the Zebra (voiced by Chris Rock) -- I think that most folks could rather quickly see some rather obvious problems that one could have with both of those castings.

I spent much of the movie thinking that Stefano the Italian-accented Sea Lion was voiced by Eddie Murphy (which I would have found kinda cool because from my Seminary days which I spent mostly in Rome, I actually marveled at how well the Italians dubbed Eddie Murphy's characters when his movies played in Italy) but now I realize Stefano was actually voiced by Martin Short (okay, but IMHO Eddie Murphy would have been a much more inspired choice for that character).

So, all in all, the movie was fun.  It's like I say a generally "okay" affair.  And certainly there have been some rather awful children's movies that have come out over the past few years (I think back to Hop [2011] and Hood Winked Too [2011] which IMHO were absolutely horrendous).   Still, I didn't particularly like the message or casting in this picture.  And I do believe that Hollywood and America could do better if it / we chose to do so.

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