NEW THIS WEEK:
-- THE PRODIGAL ZOO ANIMALS JOIN A EUROPEAN CIRCUS IN THIS SURPRISINGLY CREATIVE, FUNNY SECOND SEQUEL:
"MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED" PG -- Kids 7 and older as well as their parents can't help but have fun at this superior second sequel in the animated series about animals from New York's Central Park Zoo who get stranded in Madagascar ("Madagascar," PG, 2005) and then Africa (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," PG, 2008). The lion Alex (voice of Ben Stiller), the zebra Marty (Chris Rock), the giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and the hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) still languish in Africa and long for home. Those clever penguins and their monkey lackeys get to Monte Carlo, so Alex and the others follow them (we're not sure how). Alex corrals the penguins into flying them back to New York, but the jury-rigged plane crashes. Stuck in Europe, the zoo animals attract a villainess, Capt. Chantel Du Bois (Frances McDormand), a Parisian animal control officer who sniffs the ground like a loose-jointed bloodhound and mounts on her wall the heads of all the creatures she captures. The animals escape onto a circus train and pose as circus performers, trying to befriend the bitter tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), the wary jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain) and the trusting sea lion Stefano (Martin Short). Their Circus Zaragosa has seen better days. (In a flashback, we see how a disastrous stunt wrecked Vitaly's career. It involves fire but is not graphic.) Alex et al. have lots of ideas, and they rehearse Cirque du Soleil-style routines in a terrific, neon-colored sequence. The path from Europe back to New York is paved with complications and misunderstandings, and the final message is more about continuing to seek adventure than staying home.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Under-7s may find some of the mayhem, especially now that the animation is more emphatic in 3-D, a little too harrowing. When characters are fired from a circus cannon, or when they're engaged in a frenetic car chase, the stakes seem more death-defying, though never quite beyond cartoon-style insanity. The script includes semi-crude toilet humor, including a gross-but-hilarious moment when a circus elephant accidentally sits on a kid and gets him partially stuck in its backside -- no injuries. The word "Bolshevik" is used in place of a popular barnyard epithet that starts with "bull ... "
-- IN A SUMMER OF BIG AND LOUD, A SMART "LITTLE" COMEDY RICH IN CHARACTERS, WRITING AND ATMOSPHERE:
"MOONRISE KINGDOM" PG-13; Limited Release -- If teens 15 and older recall with pleasure "Fantastic Mr. Fox (PG, 2009), unique filmmaker Wes Anderson's charming stop-motion animated film with its deadpan vocal performances, they might be well primed to appreciate "Moonrise Kingdom." This oddball love story about two alienated 12-year-olds in 1965 is not for middle-schoolers or preteens. It weaves in adult themes and includes a mild sexual encounter between the kids. Anderson's terrific cast give affectless but deeply felt performances. The result is deliriously comic, but also poignant. Sam (Jared Gilman) is a camper with the Khaki Scouts on an island off the coast of New England. He disappears one morning, and dutiful Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) notifies the policeman, Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis). The two men and the other scouts begin a search. They learn that Sam is an orphan and that his foster parents don't want him back. They also discover that Sam has run away with Suzy (Kara Hayward), whom he met the year before during a choral concert (a wonderful flashback) at the church. Suzy lives in a brainy household with younger brothers and laconic lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). She is unhappy and prone to rages. As the solemn narrator (Bob Balaban) tells us, the runaway kids and the adults looking for them don't realize a big storm's a-comin'.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There is a nongraphic but startling make-out scene between Suzy and Sam. It includes no nudity but they French kiss and talk about Sam's feelings of arousal. At Suzy's invitation, he touches her breasts. Sam is struck by lightning in the storm, and both young people are in danger of falling off a roof. Sam pierces Suzy's ears (not in close-up) and they bleed. Adults use midrange profanity, smoke and drink. Capt. Sharp offers Sam beer. Sam also smokes a little pipe when camping -- it is not marijuana. Depression and marital infidelity are both themes.
-- DIRECTOR RIDLEY SCOTT MAKES A PREQUEL TO HIS NOW MYTHIC 1979 "ALIEN" (R), AND RECREATES SOME, BUT NOT ALL OF THE SHOCK VALUE AND SURREALISM:
"PROMETHEUS" R -- Even for high-school seniors 17 and older who aren't familiar with the original "Alien" (R, 1979) or its sequels, this new by "Alien" director Ridley Scott will be riveting -- as long as their stomachs are strong enough. And it will introduce cinema buffs among them to a groundbreaking director whose earlier work encompassed "Blade Runner" (R, 1982), "Thelma & Louise" (R, 1991), and "Black Hawk Down" (R, 2001), just for a start. Not that "Prometheus," a prequel to the "Alien" story, works on all cylinders at all times. It is visually striking and well cast, but often tough to follow, thanks to a too-murky script. Late in our 21st century, a scientist named Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her colleague/lover Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover cave paintings 35,000 or more years old that seem to indicate visitors from space. What did these visitors bring to our ancestors? Shaw sees spiritual meaning in it. In 2093, she and Holloway are aboard the spaceship Prometheus, headed to a planet where they believe they've traced the visitors in the cave paintings. The corporate boss (Charlize Theron) running the mission thinks they're crazy, the ship's captain (Idris Elba) is dubious, and the cool cyborg on the crew, David (Michael Fassbender), keeps a secret. Once the scientists start exploring the planet, they see holographs of long-dead humanoid astronauts too huge to be Earthlings, and evidence that something killed them. That something soon awakens and attacks again -- in crisp-looking digital 3-D. Shaw's faith and her science are sorely tested.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The voraciously hostile, invasive alien creatures are, again, a kind of slimy, hissing snake-squid hybrid, but with teeth. They attack and invade and destroy victims from within. These are the creatures of nightmares and not for under-17s who don't have parental OK. We see at least one or two characters' heads explode when the aliens invade them. The script includes occasional profanity, sexual innuendo and a homophobic joke. There is a steamy but nonexplicit sexual situation. SPOILER ALERT: The heroine/scientist Shaw has a robotic surgical caesarian section to deliver and destroy an alien with she's been impregnated.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.