"Dat dat dat datta dat dat circus afro circus afro circus afro crircus poka dot poka dot afro..."
From a story perspective, the film is separated into two halves, the time consuming comedic part and the actual story. The first part of the film is just the animals getting from point A to point B. Not a whole lot at stack, but some funny situations. It just felt like a long cartoon that doesn't really add to the over arching story like in Family Guy when the episode starts one way, but finishes with something totally different. The second half is where all the meat is for the film. We see the character's situation and desperation to get home, the other side plots are introduced. In this part of the film the relationships are tested. The franchise thrives on its humor, but in this iteration I felt as if the jokes are hit or miss.
The characters are all the same from the previous films, you get Marty, Alex, Gloria, and Melman. They are basically the same and go through very little if any character development. However, the film introduces some new characters who are cool and keep the film fresh. Gia is the love interest for Alex, Stefano is the likable odd ball that adds a lot of humor, but by far the best character is Vitaly. Vitaly is the hardened circus leader. After an incident he loses his confidence and the circus falls down with him. The story focuses on him the most and we get a good feel for him. I think the worst inclusion to the cast is the villain, Captain Chantel DuBois. She isn't a bad character, but she just comes off as annoying. Her motivation is fairly weak and she appears in the most random points through the film. She has her moments, but it's like a six year old, who looks cute at first, but after spending an hour with him you want to go drop him off in a ditch somewhere. The Penguins and King Julien have some funny moments, but are down played in this film. They were some of the funniest parts of the previous movies, but they really lacked in this one, which is a shame.
It seems to me that with every new animated film coming out they seem to push the envelope in some way, however the "Madagascar" series has always strutted to its own groove. While most animated films go for realism and accurate character animation, this one lives in a very cartoony world in the vain of the Looney Tunes. Characters seem to be capable of almost anything from falling great distance to defying gravity. The animation is just more refined now from previous movies, but one scene in particular is worth the ticket price. That scene is the circus act in the middle of the film and towards the end. The music and colors are so pleasing and it is just so surreal.
Overall "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" is a fun watch. The animation doesn't push the envelope and some of the jokes are weak, but they still manage to put in some heart. The new characters are interesting and they pull the slack of the main cast, who took a back seat in this one. And the soundtrack is really good, it uses popular songs, but to add to the feel of the situations. I don't think it will resonate with people after a couple weeks, but for what it's worth it's a good time. I give it 3/5, predictable story, but you'll have a good time.