Review in a Hurry: Third time’s a charmer. In this fur-ociously entertaining sequel, Alex the Lion and his zoo crew try to get home to New York by joining a traveling circus. A funny, snappy script and thrilling action sequences make this European adventure a trip worth taking. 

WATCH: New Madagascar 3 trailer

The Bigger Picture: A sequel can be a tricky trapeze act, but this latest (and best) installment of the popular DreamWorks franchise performs that high-flying feat with the greatest of ease. An unexpected delight, Madagascar 3 is a three-ring circus of hilarity, excitement, and dazzling animation that should please the entire family.

The animal pals are still hoofing it in Africa—Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). Hoping to return to the Central Park Zoo, they snorkel to Monte Carlo and crash a casino in pursuit of the penguins and their monkey-powered plane.

A breathtaking chase ensues, as evil animal-control chief Chantel DuBois (Fargo-tastic Frances McDormand) tracks them through the streets and across rooftops. The fugitives find refuge on a circus train, with a show that’s headed for Rome, London, and—if all goes well—Manhattan. But this big top is a big flop, so Alex and friends help the circus animals prep a spectacular performance.

READ: Most threequels suck

There’s some interspecies romance for good measure, as Lemur King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) woos a huge circus bear: “You have a very hairy back; I like that in a woman.” The montage of their Vatican vacation, accompanied by Andrea Bocelli’s tenor, is a total hoot.

Energetic without getting frenetic, M3 deftly juggles the loony-tunes antics with candy-colored visuals (try to see it in 3D) and terrific new characters, including relentless villainess DuBois, an overeager Italian seal (Martin Short), and an embittered Russian tiger (Bryan Cranston).

One quibble: Why use such stale pop songs as the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” and Katy Perry‘s excruciatingly overplayed “Firework”? However, the score’s sly inclusion of “Born Free” is inspired—as is much of this masterfully crafted madness.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Wee ones and PETA members might be upset by a saw-wielding DuBois threatening to hack off Alex’s head for her trophy wall. Quelle horreur

 PHOTOS: Movie Premiere Pandemonium!

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