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Rebecca Woolf: 'Madagascar 3' is my favorite 2012 movie. Who'd have thought it?

Rebecca Woolf of Girl’s Gone Child is a mom of four who’s considered by many (especially us!) to be the top mom blogger out there. She’s joining our little EW family and will tackle that wonderful space where pop culture and parenting overlap.

I’m not an animation person. Try as I have (a thousand times) I cannot get into animated stories. Shows, films, short films, music videos, commercials, cartoons, short cartoons, “best animated” short subjects—I can’t do any of them. I’ve spent countless hours pretending to enjoy shows like South Park and Family Guy with friends and boyfriends (and husbands) who CANNOT. GET. ENOUGH.

Even as a child I chose Mary Poppins over Cinderella, The Gnome Mobile over Snow White, The Parent Trap (Hayley Mills) over pretty much everything. These were stories of real people who looked like real people trying to navigate conflicts that were a little more… real.

Not that fantasy didn’t entertain me. I was just far more interested in jumping into chalk paintings with Michael than navigating epic chase scenes with cartoon characters and their cartoon character shenanigans.

So I found myself in unfamiliar territory several weeks ago when I took my two eldest children (ages three and seven) to see Madagascar 3, a film I knew nothing about. A film whose prequels I hadn’t even seen. A film I assumed I’d sit through reluctantly as usual. A film I absolutely loved.

From the moment the movie began, with its silly ageless jokes and masterful punmanship, I was in. Transfixed. Crying with laughter. It wasn’t just funny it was hysterical. Bridesmaids hysterical. At one point I think I peed. I certainly cried. And it wasn’t just me with a raging case of the giggles. My kids were just as hysterical. We were laughing together, slapping one another’s knees with popcorn in our noses.

If you’re not familiar, Madagascar 3 (and this is a pretty informal description, forgive me) is about a posse of animals who decide that being free to roam in Africa is not the life they wanted. They THOUGHT they did, but now they’re over it and they want to go back to New York City and their home in the zoo. So! Off they go on a journey. And on that journey they meet a group of washed-up circus folk who they join (well, they actually buy the circus and then join but that’s not important) and of course, develop relationships with the performers—friendships, love affairs—until they’re all one big happy circus folk family. And they practice and practice because they want to be the best so that a booker from NYC will bring them to NYC and then everyone will live happily ever after in the zoo.

Except… of course, they realize that THAT is not really what they want either, grass-is-always-greener style. The zoo is no longer their home. The circus is. They are not the same animals they once were. They are new and improved and free. Better off for the mistakes they made and even more importantly, better together than apart.

Simple. Eloquent. Brilliant. And hilarious. Did I mention that part?

Okay good.

There have been many films that have transcended children’s entertainment, chock full of
jokes only a parent would get, references only a parent would know, filled with nostalgic scenes that are clearly meant to punch adult humans in the soul with spiked fists. (Toys 3 much? If that movie wasn’t written just to break adult hearts…and don’t even get me started on Up.)

But this was something else entirely. My kids and I were laughing in all of the same parts, delighted by the same kooky characters, moved by the same subtleties. And it got me thinking about good storytelling and how it transcends age. How once upon a time, when my parents were children, entertainment was a family affair. Generations would gather around TV and radio together as opposed to separately. Family films actually appealed to the whole family. Entertainment wasn’t separated into the two categories it is today, “for kids” and “not for kids.”

And not to sound all Carrie Bradshaw but I couldn’t help but wonder if Madagascar 3’s success will lead to similarly clever, universally hilarious family films.

Like, say, Madagascar 4.

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