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MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED

Juggling Responsibilities
The global success of 2005's "Madagascar" and its lively 2008 sequel "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," proved that while the films were broad comedies with plenty of action, they were, above all, well-told stories with universal themes audiences related to. For the filmmakers, it was never enough to just go for the laughs.

As director/writer Tom McGrath says: "Having an emotional spine to a story is really what carries you through - because if you just string a lot of jokes together, there isn't much to cling to." Director/writer Eric Darnell observes: "As an audience you want to be able to connect with and empathize with the characters' wants and needs. To be able to plumb those depths is critical."

The filmmakers' desire to take the characters to new places - literally and figuratively - continues in "Madagascar 3." Incorporating Ralph Waldo Emerson's inspirational quote, "Life is a journey, not a destination" as their maxim, the filmmakers' chose to explore themes of what it means to be home, having confidence and finding ones passions. As a result, Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria have found a better sense of who they are, while grappling with the wilds of Madagascar and Africa.

As Darnell puts it, "That's what has been the core desire of our guys from the beginning: To identify their place in the world."

And what a world it's turning out to be for them. Their journey took the Zoosters from New York, to the eponymous island of Madagascar, then to the wilds of Africa. In the latest installment, the adventure unfolds all across Europe, which naturally calls for a grander scale visually and in the storytelling.

Says director Conrad Vernon: "The scope is a lot bigger in this one. We're going to a lot of different places and meeting a lot of new characters. We're in Rome, the Swiss Alps, London, Monte Carlo and New York."

What's more, for the first time, a "Madagascar" chapter is being filmed in 3D. Serendipitously, when they looked back at the earlier "Madagascar" films to figure out what they would have to differently this time around, the filmmaking team found that 3D is a process their franchise is well suited for.

Says Darnell: "We realized, stylistically, we were already making 3D movies. Because of the films' comedic tone, we were often doing things that put stuff out in front of the camera. Once we recognized that our cinematography and our comedy really lent themselves beautifully to the 3D world, we really didn't have to change much of what we were doing. But taking our animals into a circus automatically gives us these wonderful opportunities - we're moving not just across the surface of the earth, we're moving up in the air, flipping, rolling and flying - to work in 3D, of course."

Adds McGrath: "3D just gives you so many more tools to work with. It's immersive. You can underscore an emotional scene as much as you can the action."

Just as satisfying was the ability for Darnell, McGrath and Vernon, all long-time friends and DreamWorks Animation veterans, to work together in the same capacity. Though Darnell and McGrath helmed the first two films, Vernon had served as a creative consultant and voiced Mason the chimp, even as he was helming "Shrek 2" and later, "Monsters vs. Aliens." Three directors is definitely not a traditional route, but on this film, it was a real dream of the filmmakers to work together and share in the creative process.

Darnell says, "With us, the sum is greater than the parts. Because we're all enmeshed in this franchise and the tone of the film, it actually helps (having three directors working as a team) because I can go to New York and be recording Ben Stiller, Tom can be working with the production designers and the lighting department and Conrad can be directing animators work. Then we can all come back together and know that we've all been pushing the story and the film in the same direction because we are creatively joined at the hip."

Adds McGrath: "There's a great rule of improv groups, which is 'never change the subject in improv, you always say yes, and.' When one of us gets an idea for something, it's great to collaborate and contribute and build on these ideas. That's the group dynamic. At the end of the day we do have a combined vision for the film."

That singular vision meant telling a story that had heart as well as humor, of animals that come together to become greater than they ever thought they could be.

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