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Madagascar a high-energy, madcap romp
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Alex the Lion, voiced by Ben Stiller, left, and Gia the Jaguar, voiced by Jessica Chastain, in a scene from "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted."

‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’

Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Rating: PG, for some mild action and rude humor
Starring: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen
Bottom line: More of the same manic fun

The Madagascar franchise has always been silly and madcap, but with “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” the series takes a turn into the downright absurd.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) are still living in Africa, but they have grown extremely homesick, especially Alex.

I guess we’re supposed to pretend Alex wasn’t reunited with his parents in the previous movie. That whole discovery of the characters’ homeland thing either never happened or no longer matters, because now they want to leave.

They have been waiting for the penguins to return from Skipper’s honeymoon in Monte Carlo and take them back to New York, but there are no signs the marauding little birds are going to come back any time soon.

Now, the Madagascar movies are built around talking animals, penguins and chimpanzees who can construct airplanes out of salvaged materials, etc. Realism has never been important in these movies.

But something like getting from Africa to Monte Carlo would have presented a legitimate challenge in the previous movies. These animals are subject to the basic limitations of time and space. I mean, the penguins might have commandeered a ship in the first movie, but they still needed a ship to get across the ocean.

Well, the Madagascar gang is apparently no longer troubled by such trifles as physics.

Confronted with his longing for home, Alex gets an idea. Let’s just go to Monte Carlo and find the penguins, and they can take us home from there.

The very next scene shows Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria wearing snorkels and emerging from the water near Monte Carlo. How they got there is a mere matter of cartoon physics and not worth explaining, evidently.

Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) arrive just after them in a paddle boat.

Such leaps in story logic should probably ruin the movie. But it’s all so much fun that ultimately we don’t care.

The Madagascar entourage does meet up with the penguins and chimps, who are hitting it big in the Monte Carlo casinos, disguised as the King of Versailles.

When they crash the casino, animal control is called and they find themselves on the run from Captain Chantal DuBois (Frances McDormand).

DuBois is like a combination of the T-1000 robot in “Terminator 2,” Edith Piaf (she sings “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” during a hilarious scene) and a bloodhound. She will not, seemingly cannot, be stopped.

The gang eludes DuBois by hiding out with a circus troupe that is touring Europe. From that point on, the movie becomes one part chase film, one part backstage musical.

Alex and the gang believe the circus is their ticket to getting back home, but they soon discover it’s a terrible circus. So they decide to makeover the circus.

They also fold even more characters (this is becoming a crowded franchise) into their unconventional family unit: Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), a Russian tiger with confidence issues; Gia (Jessica Chastain), a cheetah and love interest; and Stefano (Martin Short), a lovable but dense Italian seal.

Bear in mind that I’ve only just described the first third of the movie. “Madagascar 3” moves at a break-neck pace. It’s as if the penguins themselves scripted it.

At all times, comedy and spectacle are much more important than story.

With the all-out absurd tone, no joke, sight gag or cultural reference is off limits. Just about anything can happen in this movie.

The circus performances, during which the characters fly and dance in geometric patterns, recall the old Busby Berkeley musicals. It’s all quite stunning, surprisingly.

The movie is family-friendly just like the previous installments, but the 3D is once again unnecessary.

“Madagascar 3” won’t attract any new fans, but if you already enjoy this franchise, you’ll be satisfied.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.

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