Colorful, bright and wickedly smart in spots, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is an animated romp that will entertain adults and children, pop-culture fans and opera buffs in a wide swath of action and comedy.

The same group of animals is back, and this time they aren’t satisfied with remaining in Africa. Now they want to go home to New York. Gloria the hippo (voice of Jada Pinkett Smith), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) and Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) decide to make their way home. And a globe-hopping effort is their journey, including stops in Monte Carlo, London and Rome.

They run afoul of a French animal control officer, Capt. Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), who desperately wants Alex’s head mounted on her wall. While the animals are in flight from DuBois and her team of law enforcement officers, they tell a troupe of circus animals that they, too, are circus performers.

Although Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), the leader, doesn’t trust them, he begrudgingly allows them to board his circus train. There they meet Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short), a charming character who pretty much steals every scene in which he appears. Coached by the Madagascar crew, the other animals work with them so they can land a contract to perform in the United States.

Noah Baumbach, who wrote “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” among other entertaining screenplays, teams with Eric Darnell, a director and writer of the first two “Madagascar” films. It’s not surprising that the picture is clever as well as funny, with some enjoyable references that only grownups will appreciate.

For example, Stefano bears a strong resemblance to the character of Canio in the opera “Pagliacci,” and you’ll hear strains of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in the soundtrack. Additionally, cinephiles will get a kick out of a nod to the Trevi Fountain scene in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” And Capt. DuBois’s facial features are similar to those of actress Sophia Loren.

The kids will love the animals, which are part of a franchise now. Grownups will enjoy the comedy, the soundtrack that runs an incredible musical gamut and the winks to other entertainment.

It’s all you could want in a fun summer romp.


3½ stars

Running time: One hour and 35 minutes

Rated: PG for scenes of peril and brief violence