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Directors: Eric Darnell, Conrad Vernon & Tom McGrath
Release Date:
June 8, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

I’ve never really cared for the Madagascar series. I was pretty unimpressed by the characters, the rather forced angular character designs and the odd unconvincing story lines. In that respect, ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ arguably is the best of the three films.

Not only does it round up nicely the story lines of the first two films, but it does also so in a pleasantly unpredictable way, with its free-flowing story making surprising turns here and there. Thus, I’ll try to reveal as little as possible about the film’s story below. Apart from that, there’s plenty of action, with the first chase scene already appearing at the 13th minute.

It surely does help that the film introduces some new stars besides the regular heroes Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, and Gloria the hippopotamus. The new characters somehow are far more interesting than the four main characters, let alone the lemurs, chimps, and penguins, who never transcend comic relief. The Italian sea lion Stefano (superbly voiced by Martin Short) is a delight, combining naive optimism with a scent of sadness and insecurity. Even better still is the Russian tiger Vitaly. He gets a surprisingly tragic background story, which makes him far more interesting than the usual antagonist. In fact, Vitaly and Stefano completely outplay the four principal characters, whose character traits aren’t deepened, at all. Their best moment comes – spoiler! – at the end of the film – when they discover how much they’ve outgrown their former home.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the film’s main villain, Captain Chantel DuBois, leader of French animal control. She’s depicted as a supernatural, unhuman woman, willing to go far outside her country and duty to get her prey. As she is a French officer this is pushing the edges of believability way too far. Moreover, her antics hinder the more interesting plot parts which focus on the characters’ emotions. I dare to say that Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ could have been a really good film instead of an average one if the film makers would have focused on the emotional story more, and not on the mostly nonsensical antics of chimps, penguins and lemurs. Especially because the character animation at those more emotional moments is in fact very good.

The pushing of believability is a problem of ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ anyway. The film completely throws the laws of physics out of the window, with characters jumping, flying, riding, and falling in complete disregard of plausibility (this is a waxing problem in American animation film, anyhow – for example, it’s also my main problem with the complete Kung Fu Panda franchise and with e.g. ‘Missing Link’ from 2019).

But worse, the film also pushes the boundaries of plausibility story-wise. We must accept that the four animals and their three lemur friends traveled Africa and the Mediterranean unhindered and that their problems only start in Europe. As said, we must accept that DuBois acts way out of her administration. We must accept that Marty and co. can acquire circus skills in no time solely because they follow their passion. Even worse, we are to believe that they can set up a complete circus show in seemingly one day (there’s not even a montage scene to suggest passing of more time). We must accept that one motivational speech by Alex can clear a lifetime of trauma in Vitaly, and we have to accept that Vitaly, after years and years without training can perform his prize act again at the highest level, without any rehearsal.

These story elements are all preposterous, and they are an abomination and an insult to all real artists. I wonder what got into the film makers to install messages like these into the minds of their audience. By all means, these elements push the all too American “you can do everything you want if you devote yourself to it” message way beyond its limits, and turn it into a downright lie (which, sadly enough, Dreamworks repeated without blinking in ‘Kung Fu Panda 3‘ from 2016).

The film also features an obligate break-up scene, one of the more irritating tropes in American computer-animated cinema, troubling a wide range of films from different studios, like ‘Up’ (2009), ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2’ (2013), ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ (2016) and ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ (2016).

Story problems are not the only problems troubling ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’. The design, too, is unconvincing. The character designs are a mixed bag. For example, the bear Sonya occupies a completely different design space than the angular Alex. The rendering is often pretty ugly, with a high level of unreality. Again, the angular character designs of the characters are at odds with their decors, a problem that persists throughout the Madagascar series. Highlight, design-wise, is the first performance by Alex’s new Cirque du Soleil-inspired circus. This is a series of very colorful images, hardly rooted in reality, and looking more like coming from a dream. I wouldn’t be surprised if these images are a conscious attempt to emulate the same trippy feeling as the pink elephant scene, the most wonderful piece of that most famous animated circus film, ‘Dumbo’ (1941). The end titles, too, seem to be a homage to the classic Disney movie.

It may be clear that Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ never reaches the height of that classic film – it’s simply too flawed and too nonsensical for that. But the film certainly is entertaining, and a surprisingly pleasant finale to the Madagascar series.

Watch the trailer for ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: June 17, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Polar Trappers © Walt Disney‘Polar Trappers’ is the first of six cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Goofy.

This mini-series, which lasted until 1947, is much less well-known than the trio-cartoons of the 1930s, and rightly so, for these cartoons are okay at best, and never reach the classic heights of a ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1937) or ‘Mickey’s Trailer’ (1938).

One of the problems of these shorts is that the studio never really succeeded in making comedy out of interaction between these two characters. Without the bridging Mickey, it was in fact, rather unclear why the two very different characters were actually together.

In ‘Polar Trappers’ Donald Duck and Goofy don’t share any screen time until the very end. This cartoon incongruously places them on some unknown expedition in the Antarctic. Apparently they want to catch walruses, but even Goofy has no clue why, as he sings in his opening scene.

Meanwhile Donald Duck is tired of cooking beans. He’d rather eat penguin meat, so he dresses like a penguin and tries to lure a population of penguins, much like the pied piper. This march of the penguins accounts for some beautiful shots, most notably one in which the penguins cast large shadows across the screen. The penguins’ design come straight from the Silly Symphony ‘Peculiar Penguins‘ (1934).

Donald’s evil plan is stopped by one tear of a little penguin he had sent away. This tear grows into a huge snowball, destroying the duo’s camp.

Shortly after this film’s release (August 15-27, 1938) Al Taliaferro’s Donald Duck comic strip drew inspiration from the same material, but now without Goofy.

Watch ‘Polar Trappers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Polar Trappers’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: June 26, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Still from 'Arctic Antics' featuring sea lionsIn ‘Arctic Antics’ the song-and-dance-routine, typical of the early Silly Symphonies, is carried out by polar bears, sea lions, penguins (whose habitat actually is the Antarctic), and a walrus. The latter is reused from the Mickey Mouse short ‘Wild Waves‘ from 1929.

‘Arctic Antics’ was the last cartoon Ub Iwerks directed before he left the studio to set up one of his own. It features a rather Mickey Mouse-like polar bear, but the most interesting aspect of this cartoon is the end, in which the marching penguins disappear behind an iceberg. This gives a novelty effect of depth. This search of effects of depth would eventually lead to the invention of the multiplane camera, seven years later.

Penguins were revisited five years later, in ‘Peculiar Penguins‘ (1935). By then they had lost the out-of-place bellybuttons they got in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Arctic Antics’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 11
To the previous Silly Symphony: Frolicking Fish
To the next Silly Symphony: Midnight in a Toy Shop

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 1, 1934
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Peculiar Penguins © Walt Disney‘Peculiar Penguins’ can be summarized as ‘love story in the Antarctic’: a penguin falls in love with a girl, blows it, but saves the day by rescuing her from a terrible shark.

Being one of the weaker entries in the Silly Symphonies, ‘Peculiar Penguins’ nevertheless contains some fine animation, especially in the under water chase, which is literally packed with special effects. Like in ‘Funny Little Bunnies‘, the setting is introduced by a sugary song, accompanying a complex opening shot, with lots of penguins moving and seagulls flying in it.

Ten years later Disney would return to the Antarctic to tell about a particularly peculiar penguin called Pablo in ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944).

Watch ‘Peculiar Penguins’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 47
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Flying Mouse
To the next Silly Symphony: The Goddess of Spring

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