MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED (PG)
Stars the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Frances McDormand, Andy Richter; directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon; 93 minutes.
There have been a lot of animated features in recent years - long gone are the days when Disney dominated the field - and many of them have been of pretty high quality. The Madagascar series has been reliable: always well made and entertaining though not, perhaps, distinctively memorable. The third in the series, in which Madagascar itself scarcely features, continues in the same vein. There's not a lot of originality or individual personality in the characters and it's emotionally a bit shallow, but it's fun while it lasts, a flurry of colour and sound and motion with a lot of jokes aimed at older audiences. And it's in 3D, for those who care.
The animals - including core quartet Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) - are homesick for New York (this is not the time or place to get into a debate about the ethics of zoos) and are determined to return. So begins an adventure that takes them first to Monte Carlo and then through Europe, pursued by the monomaniacal Gallic animal control officer Capitaine Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), who would like to add Alex's head to her trophy collection.
En route, the animals join a train containing a run-down circus including such characters as Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain), Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short) - who's none too bright but well-meaning - and tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), formerly the star, now embittered and angry.
If you guessed that they will help revitalise the show with their own special talents and that lessons will be learnt, romance kindled and confidence restored, well, it wasn't exactly difficult. The pleasure with a movie such as this isn't in the surprises of the story, anyway, it's in the fun you have along the way. And there's fun to be had here, with some impressively created action scenes and some good jokes along the way (commenting on the fact his ancestors performed at the Colosseum, Alex remarks, ''Apparently they killed.'') Chantel isn't a particularly deeply drawn villain but she's enjoyable nasty and has her moments, like a stirring rendition of an Edith Piaf song, and the jaunty military-style penguin crew is fun, too.
There's romance - between Alex and Gia, and also between the lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and circus bear Sonya (who doesn't speak) - but it doesn't get too icky.
Madagascar 3 is light and bright and breezy, the sort of film children and their parents can enjoy together (for slightly different reasons, perhaps). Whether or not they remember it for very long afterwards is another matter.