The first “Madagascar” CGI animation was innovative and lighthearted, punctuated by likeable characters and catchy music.  The second “Madagascar” film, “Escape 2 Africa,” was still OK, just not quite as attractive because, like most sequels, it didn’t offer too much we hadn’t already seen.  So, how would the DreamWorks filmmakers do with a third film in the franchise, “Europe’s Most Wanted”?  Fortunately, they gave it more life, added a few new characters, changed the setting, and, best of all, provided even more and better music (composer Hans Zimmer does the score again, aided by a slew of other songs).  The result is a film that almost matches the first one in originality and high good spirits.

The three directors are Eric Darnell (“Antz” and the first two “Madagascar” films), Tom McGrath (“Megamind” and the first two “Madagascar” films), and Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2,” “Monsters vs. Aliens”).  The screenwriters are the aforementioned Eric Darnell, plus Noah Baumbach (“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” “The Squid and the Whale,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox”).  So, yeah, you’ve got some strong talent involved, and they show it by producing a film that both children and adults can enjoy:  plenty of color and action for the youngsters and a reasonable amount of characterization, pathos, wit, and cultural references for older folks.

Let’s start with the high points.  The usual gang are back:  Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), the penguins Kowalski (Chris Miller) and the Skipper (Tom McGrath), King Julien the lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), and Mort (Andy Richter).  They’re still in Africa when the movie starts, looking for a way to get back home to New York City and the Central Park Zoo.  Meanwhile, the penguins have taken off and headed for the gaming tables of Monte Carlo.

They all reunite in a Monte Carlo casino, but the problem remains of getting back to America, and they do so by teaming up with a traveling circus.  There, we meet a new set of characters, including a grumpy Russian tiger, Vitaly (Brian Cranston), who’s lost his confidence, pride, and passion; a goofy Italian seal, Stefano (Martin Short); and a lovely cheetah, Gia (Jessica Chastain).

However, there’s a bigger conflict the gang face in a relentless Animal Control officer, Capt. Chantel DuBois (Francis McDormand), obsessed with killing Alex and mounting his head on her trophy wall.

The first half of the film moves at a fairly frantic pace, with a lot of chases and crashes and stuff blowing up.  Before long, it looks as though the film is going to be one long, frenetic race to the finish.  Yet, it doesn’t happen.  By the second half, things have slowed down to a comfortable pace, and adult viewers can catch their breath and enjoy the movie’s more sophisticated humor and its many musical, cultural, and movie references.  How many animated films can boast of containing not only Andrea Bocelli, Verdi, and “Born Free,” but “Serpentine, serpentine” from “The In-Laws” as well?

As we would expect, the DreamWorks animation artists produce a wonderfully well-detailed picture, much like the first movies in that the artwork is more stylish than it is realistic.  It’s a pleasure just looking at this thing, even if we don’t care for everything that’s going on.

Among minor quibbles, I would say there are too many characters involved now.  It doesn’t leave a lot of room in a ninety-minute film for any of them to get much screen time or for the viewer to care as much about any one them.  Still, the filmmakers rescue the situation by giving the movie an uncommon poignancy and verve, plus a few romantic involvements, all of them predictable, certainly, but heartwarming nonetheless.

For me, the best part of the picture was the music.  How can you not like a film that includes “What’s New Pussycat” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “Any Way You Want It” by Journey, “Non je ne Regrette Rien” by Charles Dumont and Michel Vaucaire, “New York, New York” by Leonard Bernstein, “Con Te Patiro” with Andrea Bocelli, the “Sabre Dance” by Aram Khachaturian, “La Donna E Mobile” by Giuseppe Verdi, “Watermark” with Enya, “Pomp and Circumstance” by Edward Elgar, “Fireworks” by Katy Perry, “Born Free” by John Barry, “Afro Circus/I Like to Move It” by Chris Rock and others, and “Love Always Comes As a Surprise” by Peter Asher, all side by side?

“Madagascar 3:  Europe’s Most Wanted” may not be the movie world’s equivalent to the Ringling Brothers’ “Greatest Show on Earth,” but it is largely enjoyable, with some genial action, comedy, and adventure along the way.

With so colorful a film as this, we need the best possible high-definition video reproduction, which DreamWorks deliver using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec to replicate the film in its native aspect ratio, 1.85:1 (1.78:1 here).  The results are beautiful.  The hues are gorgeously rendered, with sharp object delineation, deep blacks, strong contrasts, and plenty of detail.  Of course, CGI animated films usually do show up on Blu-ray better than live-action ones, but that’s just the way it is.  If you saw the film in a theater and liked how it looked, that’s the way you’ll find it on BD.

DreamWorks do up the audio nicely with a lossless 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack that provides excellent surround activity from all the speakers, decent treble and bass extension, exemplary midrange clarity, and strong impact.  Since there is a lot of music involved in the movie, the soundtrack offers a pleasant musical bloom and a good, balanced response that sounds pretty natural, neither too bright nor too soft.

As we would expect, the Blu-ray disc comes stuffed with extras.  First up, there’s a filmmakers’ audio commentary with the three directors.  After that, we get a game, “Get Them to the Train,” that will occupy youngsters for a while.  Then there’s a fifteen-minute featurette, “Ringmasters,” about the filmmakers and their making of the film, followed by a four-minute “Madagascar 3 Roundtable” discussion among some of the cast.  Next, there is “The Animators’ Corner,” where the filmmakers comment on the movie via picture-in-picture inserts; a “Trivia Track” of pop-ups you can play during the movie; three deleted scenes; a one-minute “Mad Music Mash-Up”; a fourteen-minute featurette, “Big Top Cast,” on the voice talent involved; some previews of other DreamWorks animations and video games; and a twenty-minute “Sneak Peak” at the “How To Train Your Dragon” live-action show.

The extras on the Blu-ray disc conclude with sixteen scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; English audio descriptions; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Finally, as this is a Combo Pack it includes the movie in high definition on a Blu-ray disc, the movie in standard definition on a DVD, and UltraViolet access to downloading and streaming the movie (the offer expiring October 15, 2013).  The two discs come housed in a solid Blu-ray case, further enclosed in a colorful cardboard slipcover.

Parting Thoughts:
Although “Madagascar 3:  Europe’s Most Wanted” is not my idea of a prizewinning animated film, it is a reasonably entertaining one.  Best of all, it’s an animation with a little something for everyone in the family, from kids to adults.  Sure, there’s probably too much slapstick and chasing around, but there’s a mature element as well that makes the film worth watching more than once.  It’s fun; go with it.