One of the more mystifyingly popular children’s franchises out there is DreamWorks Animation‘s “Madagascar” series, and this is coming from someone who is obsessed with cartoons. Even its central conceit, while appealing, leaves much to be desired (neurotic, city-dwelling animals from the zoo are mistakenly shipped off to far flung reaches of the globe), with most of the characters simply loose ethnic stereotypes and the animation existing in a world of half-assed stylization (some characters exhibit a more cartoony, hard-edged style, with others are realized in typical DreamWorks mediocrity). The fact that they’ve squeezed three movies out of this thing is amazing in and of itself, but even more baffling is the fact that this third entry, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (woof), was written by Noah Baumbach. And watching this new trailer doesn’t exactly illuminate anything.
For those of you who think, “Well, he probably just did a polish on the preexisting script,” since DreamWorks has a history of pulling this kind of shit (they had Charlie Kaufman come in for the demeaning task of punching up the peacock’s dialogue in “Kung Fu Panda 2“), this is entirely different. While Baumbach might have initially been brought on to solidify an existing script, he retains the sole “written by” credit on the film. It’s possible that Ben Stiller, who worked with Baumbach on “Greenberg” (the two were also paired, at one point, on “Mr. Popper’s Penguins“), brought him onboard, seeking to add a little legitimacy to the tired third entry in the already flagging franchise.
But whoever got Baumbach on the film, he’s here, not that you can tell from the trailer. The animals from the first two “Madagascar” films (Stiller’s lion, Chris Rock‘s zebra, David Schwimmer‘s giraffe, and Jada Pinkett Smith‘s hippo) are still trying to make it back to Manhattan (in the first film they were on the titular, Darwin-beloved island, while in the second film they only made it as far as Africa). They wind up in Europe, for some reason, and decide to try to make their way across the continent by falling in with a traveling circus. Hilarious, right? Nope.
The trailer is unceasingly busy — at one point dipping into some kind of surreal, neon-lit sequence that looks like it’s attempting to pay homage to the “Elephants on Parade” moment from “Dumbo,” but, you know, all hip and edgy like DreamWorks loves to do — without much plot or character conveyed. We can’t imagine why the authorities (exemplified by a character played by Frances McDormand) are so obsessed with chasing down these critters, and visually it looks pretty bland and uninspired. This is a shame, too, considering how DreamWorks has been on a little bit of a roll, thanks mostly to Guillermo del Toro‘s position as chief creative advisor (you can really feel his hand in last year’s above-average “Puss in Boots“). Instead of feeling any Baumbachiness, this thing looks about as anonymous as they come.
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is out on June 8th. Same weekend as “Prometheus.” Choose wisely.