The world’s favourite talking zoo animals are back in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. This time, franchise screenwriter Eric Darnell joins forces with Noah Baumbach (Fantastic Mr Fox) to give us a script that is bulging with laughs.

As this is a Madagascar movie, it goes without saying that the concept is entirely ridiculous. Left in Africa at the end of the last film, our main characters – Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith) – decide it’s time to return home to their zoo in New York’s Central Park. Arriving in Monte Carlo at the beginning of the film, they are joined by the brainy, quick-witted penguins. But on crossing paths with French animal control’s top hunter Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) – who wants Alex’s head for her wall – they are forced to join a traveling circus. This plot is completely bonkers but Madagascar 3 is surprisingly good.

“Madagascar 3 is loud and colourful, crammed with songs and action”

The villain, DuBois, is cold, ruthless, determined and very hands-on, making for some great slapstick gags. There’s plenty of room for new animal characters too, revitalizing the franchise and taking pressure off the originals who were beginning to feel tired. Jaguar trapeze artist Gia (Jessica Chastain), hoop-jumping tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) and sea-line canon-ball Stefano (Martin Short) capably dominate the film’s second half.

Madagascar 3 is packed with jokes from loud slapstick gags – including a grizzly bear on a Ducati and a plethora of circus related accidents – to more subtle jokes for adults, often using classical music to draw attention to the movie’s own cliches. Another standout scene sees DuBois awaken her troops with a version of Edith Piaf’s ‘Non je ne regrette rien’. Movie references are plentiful from DuBois’s Matrix style evasion of banana bullets to a Roman Holiday style love affair around Rome’s most famous landmarks.

Of course, Madagascar 3 is a children’s movie at heart and occasionally steps over into the sentimental. Alex’s fatherliness sees him encourage his circus crew in plot developments that are sickly sweet. Fortunately, the sharp and wry penguins are never far away, cutting through the soppiness with aplomb. Sacha Baron Cohen’s ring tailed lemur King Julien – this time in love with a giant grizzly bear – also provides a neat and comic distraction.

Madagascar 3 is loud and colourful, crammed with songs and action. An assortment of new characters keeps this third installment fresh, while old favourites return charged with very funny gags. Madagascar 3 is silly and sometimes sentimental but the laughs keep on coming throughout.

VERDICT:   ✭ ✭ ✭ ✩ ✩  3/5

For more information, see the official website