After New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is through regulating sugar intake via soft drinks, he might want to consider the dubious, overstimulating effects of a film like Madagascar 3. Like a big-screen Big Gulp, this third installment of the billion-dollar animated franchise contains as much cinematic confection as an 85-minute movie can bear. It incorporates even more riotous movement and cacophonous sound than its predecessors, more characters than you can reasonably track, more locations than a Bourne film (Africa to Monte Carlo to Rome to London to New York), and an extra dimension (3-D, natch). The series' third director (Shrek 2's Conrad Vernon joins original tandem Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath) gives us the same core four animals—lion Alex (Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), and giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer)—still looking for a way back home to the Central Park Zoo. They rejoin an anarchic tribe of penguins and monkeys for an extended detour through Europe, where they run afoul of Gallic animal-huntress Capitaine Chantel DuBois (a full-throttled Frances McDormand) and join a disheveled circus. Despite a steady barrage of sight gags and pop-culture references, the film works best when downshifted to good old-fashioned character development, particularly when establishing newcomers like Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), an embittered Siberian tiger, and Stefano (Martin Short) a dim-witted, eager-to-please sea lion. But when everyone teams up to give the circus an American-style upgrade, the results are Madagascar 3 in miniature: In lieu of finesse and high-wire elegance, there's a torrent of jet packs, screaming lights, infinitely elasticized creatures, pyrotechnical bombast, and Katy Perry's "Firework." Big rush, empty calories. Fill 'er up.
Eric Darnell, Conrad VernonBen Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric The Entertainer, Andy Richter, Frances McDormand, Bryan Cranston, Martin ShortEric Darnell, Noah BaumbachMireille Soria, Mark SwiftParamount/Dreamworks