As MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED opens, the four missing Central Park Zoo stars -- Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) -- are still stranded in Africa and homesick for the Big Apple. After the clever penguins build a plane and head off for Monte Carlo, the quartet summons the energy to swim to Monaco. But before they can grab the penguins, the friends wreak havoc on a casino and are pursued by determined animal-control cop Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand), who will stop at nothing to hunt and kill her one remaining animal trophy -- the lion. The only escape for Alex and his pals is to pretend to be circus performers and join a traveling circus led by grouchy Russian tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) and sweet jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain).
Usually third (and fourth and fifth) follow-ups to a popular animated franchise are less exciting than their original films, but Madgascar 3 is a colorful, funny, globe-trotting tale. Yes, it might have a thin plot, but it makes up for that with fabulously flamboyant visuals and memorable new characters -- not to mention an over-the-top villain in Captain DuBois. McDormand is hilarious as the cleverly written animal catcher. In one of the movie's highlights, she belts out an Edith Piaf-esque torch song that leaves everyone around her with smudged mascara (even the men). With a sad backstory of loss and insecurity, Cranston's Russian tiger is one of the more complicated characters in the series, while Martin Short's sea lion is a source of continuous comic relief.
As for the central characters, Gloria and Melman have little to do but discover their love of circus performing, and Marty has his moment with that ubiquitous catchprase ("circus afro, circus afro, polka dot, polka dot, polka dot afro!"). The silly subplot with King Julien falling in love with tricycle-riding bear Sonya (who doesn't speak, only grunts) will delight kids more than adults, but the real romance is between Alex and Gia, who help each other discover that home is where the heart is, not necessarily where you used to live.