There is no more joyous noise on the planet than the sound of 100 kids laughing together.
I had forgotten about that in the 20 years that have passed since I worked at Covenant Harbor in Lake Geneva, Wis., where I realized a well-placed pie in the face was more humorous to kids than any Iran-Contra barb I could conjure up.
But the sheer happiness of unified juvenile belly laughs came back to me quickly during Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, which opened this weekend to great acclaim, judging from the thundering reception it received Saturday morning at the Cinemark Louis Joliet Mall movie theater.
Likewise, the entire theater chanted along at top volume to Chris Rock’s Afro Circus audio snippet, played heavily during previews to the movie. I can’t recall a movie sing-along in recent memory, and I don’t think the adults will croon along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” at top volume during the upcoming Rock of Ages. (Well, I hope they don’t anyway, or I will hunt down Steve Perry, shave off his mullet and shove it up his left nostril.)
My brief synopsis: Expatriate animals, originally from the Central Park Zoo, travel from Madagascar to Monte Carlo to track down a set of monkeys. They attract the attention of a malevolent French Animal Control sect, and must join a travelling European circus to avoid incarceration.
In Monte Carlo, we’re treated to the best car chase since Steve McQueen’s quease-inducing 1968 romp through San Francisco in Bullitt.
Along the way, we get some great humor at the expense of Cirque du Soleil (“Those Canadians think they can put on a circus without animals,” one character intones) as well as a nice theme about following one's passions.
Obligatory Who references
This movie might be the most Who-referencing picture since the documentary The Kids Are Alright.
- British flags are omnipresent.
- Capt. Chantel DuBois, voiced by Frances McDormand (leader of Animal Control), drives a GS-looking scooter outfitted with multiple mirrors, eerily reminiscent of the one Jimmy drives in Quadrophenia.
- In Monte Carlo, the escaped monkeys toss a TV set out the window just like Keith Moon at the Continental Hyatt House (dubbed the “Riot House” by English rockers in the '70s) in Los Angeles circa 1975.
- Lastly, at one point, jailed Italian police officers ask, “Is that the sound of a cell door closing?” Pete Townshend in “However Much I Booze,” from 1975’s The Who By Numbers (often referred to as Pete Townshend’s suicide note), wrote: “And when the night comes down, like a cell door closing ...”
The kids’ viewpoints
It can be difficult for an adult to review a movie for kids so I am going to let my kids handle some of the review of this one.
Klara, age 9:
"When the gang from Madagascar lands in Europe, Animal Control is on a wild goose chase. To stay hidden, the gang joins a traveling circus. At first, they are unfunny.
"The tiger guy is amazing at the hoop jump trick. When he showers himself in olive oil and jumps through a ring-sized hoop with fire on it, he loses everything.
"As Alex, Marty, Melvin and Gloria prepare to go to New York, they reveal the secret that they are not circus animals.
"Back in New York, the gang goes head-to head with the Animal Control. The leader is about to shoot Alex. To kick the leader’s butt, they perform what Alex calls “Trapeze Americano.” The leader goes back to where she lives.
"It was a crazy movie, especially Marty’s “Afro Circus” dance. It made us all laugh and sing. My favorite character was the Cheetah Girl, she was cute."
Tait, age 6
"It’s funny. I liked Alex (voice of Ben Stiller). Comedy means really funny."
Axel, age 6
"The comedy was funny. I liked Marty (voice of Chris Rock). He was funny."
“We are going to rethink everything anyone knows about the circus.” — Alex
“Here’s Times Square, with its modern-day corporate lack of character.” — Alex
“It’s the fuzz!” — The animals upon realizing they are being chased by animal control. My kids repeated this line back to me, as an authority figure in their lives refers to the police as the fuzz.
“Cat to cat, do a solid here.” — Alex to Vitaly, the temperamental Russian tiger (and once again, haven’t former citizens of the Soviet Union suffered enough? Can’t a temperamental animal be from China?)
“Has anyone ever told you you look like a supermodel? Albeit a fat hairy one who smells.” — Julien (voice of Sacha Baron Choen) to a bear from the traveling circus