If you typically check the ingredients on the stuff you feed your kids, here is what you'll find in "Madagascar 3": jokes, Katy Perry music and less than 2 percent of character development and emotional warmth.
That's a typical formula for this animated franchise, in which four Central Park Zoo refugees keep trying to make it back home, but this chapter is an even more aggressive barrage of one-liners, pop tunes and random references to everything from Edith Piaf to the Vatican. Not every kids' movie needs to be as profound as "Old Yeller," but "Madagascar 3" is the exact opposite, as frenetic and incoherent as Robin Williams on a bender.
Subtitled "Europe's Most Wanted," the film begins as a spy spoof, with Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) infiltrating a Monte Carlo casino. That story, however, is jettisoned faster than you can say "Cars 2," Pixar's spy-themed dud from last year. Our heroes fib their way into a shabby traveling circus instead.
Suddenly, "Madagascar 3" becomes an animal version of "The Music Man," as Alex, presenting himself as an American megastar, tries to inspire the once-fearless tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), the acrobatic jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain) and the weepy sea lion Stefano (Martin Short). That has its charms, but an unshakable Monte Carlo cop named DuBois (Frances McDormand) keeps reminding us of the previous plotline. With her weirdly caricatured femininity -- a Marlene Dietrich face atop dumpy hips -- she's a particularly unwelcome villain.
Desperately directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, and co-written by the unlikely Noah Baumbach (the indie drama "The Squid and the Whale"), "Madagascar 3" is mostly harmless junk food. If anything, it could use a little sweetening.
PLOT The former Central Park Zoo animals join a traveling circus in the hopes of going home. RATING PG
PLAYING AT Area theaters, some in 3-D
BOTTOM LINE Another harmless but heartless addition to this franchise, long on jokes and short on warmth.
Star Talk: Rock animated about comedy
Chris Rock is trying to maintain every aspect of his Emmy- and Grammy-winning career: an edgy stand-up act -- Comedy Central named him the fifth best stand-up of all time -- and the occasional movie. (Besides "Madagascar: Europe's Most Wanted," he was the PG-13 voice of daddy reason in "What to Expect When You're Expecting," for which he wrote his own part.)
"I'd love to do more animation," says Rock, 47. "I do have a voice that stands out in a crowd. But, oh, my God. Am I the elder statesman of stand-up? OK, there aren't a lot of guys still doing it who are older. I've been around. I will admit that. Been there. Done that.
"I'm trying to walk that tightrope, you know? Family friendly, but hanging onto my edge. Putting together a stand-up act I can take on the road next year."
And he says he gets a kick out of playing Marty, the free spirit/wisecracking zebra of the "Madagascar" movies. "My girls , THIS time we don't have to drag them to the movie. They can bring their friends, show off their dad, have a good time.
"And this time they get to hear Daddy sing. OK, I kind of wail a song . Finally, I get to sing in a movie!" -- Orlando Sentinel