Dir: Eric Darnell, Conrad Vernon + Tom McGrath
Star: (voice) Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston
I was not surprised to see there were three directors involved here, because there’s an unevenness of tone which does indeed make it seem like multiple creative forces were involved, not necessarily all pulling in the same direction. Unfortunately, the one which seems to win out, beyond a sublime first 20 minutes or so, is the trite and saccharine redemption story, which sees Alex the lion (Stiller) team up to save a travelling circus, motivate a disgruntled tiger (Cranston), fall in love with a jaguar (Chastain), and discover the meaning of friendship. Or something. I wasn’t paying much attention, to be honest. It’s better, and certainly far more amusing, when not trying to push a narrative at all.
Such as in the opening which sees a chase through the streets of Monte Carlo, as they seek to avoid becoming the latest additions to the “wall of fame” belong to French animal control officer, Captain Chantal DuBois (Frances McDormand). I don’t know who directed that sequence. but whichever person it was, they should have been given the whole movie. The other problem is, as before, that the fringe characters are more interesting than the central ones. Dubois is a great, unstoppable villainess, cut from the same cloth as Cruella de Vil, and it’s a shame she all but vanishes from the middle hour. The penguins steal the show again – though as we saw in their own feature, are perhaps best appreciated in small doses – and there’s a deliciously surreal (and borderline perverse) plot involving a love-affair between King Julien and a circus bear, who gets upgraded from a pedal-bike to a Ducati because… Just because.
It’s this kind of inventive nonsense which showcases animation’s strength – a world where anything can happen, as long as it’s funny – not predictable story-lines that bring proceedings to a grinding halt. While I admit, as a middle-aged man I’m probably not the target audience, I humbly submit that most eleven-year-olds would probably also want to see animals whacking each other about the head, not be force-fed Important Life Lessons. If the makers would bear that in mind when the (likely, inevitable) fourth installment comes out, I’d appreciate it.