After two features and a spinoff series on cable television, it’s understandable that the creative juices are running low for the Madagascar franchise.
That becomes apparent while watching Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, the third big-screen feature about the globetrotting adventures of four escaped animals from the Central Park Zoo.
The film is aggressively energetic and fast-paced, presumably to cover for a script that reminds us how much the material has turned from fresh to familiar since the original film in 2005.
This installment, as the title suggests, offers a European backdrop for our quartet of heroes, including lion Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith).
Specifically, they go there from Africa to track down their mischievous penguin counterparts before heading back home to New York. Naturally, not all goes as planned, sending the animals on a whirlwind adventure through the landmarks of Paris, Rome and London.
Their enemy is a no-nonsense French police captain (Frances McDormand) who tracks them across the continent, forcing the zoo animals to take refuge aboard a train with a traveling circus that includes a washed-up tiger (Bryan Cranston) and a flirtatious leopard (Jessica Chastain).
Of course, the film also includes appearances by some familiar supporting characters, including lemurs King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter).
The 3D visuals are the main highlight of Madagascar 3, which utilizes the obligatory tactic of throwing as many objects directly at the screen as possible. Along with the animal antics, that might be enough to satisfy the youngest audience members.
However, adults won’t find the same level of inspiration that kept them entertained in the first film. The screenplay, written by co-director Eric Darnell along with filmmaker Noah Baumbach (Greenberg), contains some amusing sight gags and one-liners, along with a couple of creatively staged chase sequences involving the resourceful policewoman.
At least the all-star voice cast seems to enjoy what amounts to a family reunion of sorts, and their characters have a comfortable comic rapport. But fans of the original might react with more of an indifferent shrug to their latest travelogue.
Rated PG, 93 minutes.