Pete Hammond

On the third day of the Cannes Film Festival it was a day for familiar names taking the spotlight on the famed Palais steps. First up tonight was the return of DreamWorks Animation. One way or another DreamWorks Animation honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg finds a way to bring his latest product to the Croisette, whether in the form of a press stunt, junket, competition or as was the case tonight with out-of-competition entry Magagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted which debuted in the prime 7:30PM slot on the first Friday of the festival. Of course with the sequel using nearby Monte Carlo as a key backdrop for the action, and Europe in its title, this was a no-brainer for Cannes Fest director Thierry Fremaux who has repeatedly called DreamWorks Animation a “friend of the festival” and loves having a fun 3D movie toon in the mix. Just two years ago the fest opened  with Disney/Pixar’s Up.

Repping the movie at Cannes were directors Eric Darnell, Conrad Vernon and  Tom McGrath in addition to starry voices including Ben Stiller who plays Alex the lion,  Chris Rock as the zebra  Marty, Jada Pinkett-Smith as Gloria the hippo and David Schwimmer as Melman the giraffe. Among new cast members who made the trek to Cannes are Martin Short as Italian sea lion Stefano and Jessica Chastain as the Italian jaguar Gia.

As Stiller put it in today’s meeting with the press when asked to describe the Cannes experience: “I’m really excited to be here. It is my first time in Cannes and to be here as a voice in a film is a great step to actually coming here in a film,” he said, adding he stopped shooting his latest movie to make the trek to the South of France for no other reason than “I’m afraid of Jeffrey Katzenberg”who was sitting in the front row during the press conference and receiving the brunt of most jokes.

“Our film is about travelling through Europe so what better way is there to launch than at Cannes?,” asks McCarthy. Much talk was made of the fact that cerebral writer-director Noah Baumbach shares credit for the original screenplay. Asked why the writer of such dark, cynical works as Stiller’s Greenberg, Margot At The Wedding and The Squid And The Whale would be chosen to write this, Stiller said “Noah is a wonderful writer with a great sense of humor. There is a certain sweetness he brought. Of course at one point he wanted Alex the Lion to commit suicide but I told him that we needed to keep it a bit lighter than that”.

In creating the new circus motif for the film since the zoo gang has to join the Big Top in order get back home, co-director McCarthy said “we looked at Dumbo, Fantasia, anything like that that would create something surreal and our own universe. Unlike Cirque Du Soleil we wanted to take all humans out and put animals in,” he said.

Chastain, who is this year’s ‘it’ girl, actually auditioned for the role since none of her movies had come out at the time and she was still relatively unknown.

Rock says of the film which opens June 8 on a wide run,  “I like children’s movies that have jokes for adults (as this one does). Actually my kids get fidgety at a certain point but I say, “we’re not going until I find out what happened with the bear!”

But wait, we’re not done. Cannes is just like the Oscars except they do it twice every night with two daily formal premieres taking place beginning at 7:30PM. After the Madagascar gang moved on into the night, the Italians took over with Mario Garrone’s follow-up to his Cannes sensation of a couple of years ago, Gomorrah. This stylish comic  take-off on the reality show frenzy called simply Reality deals with one Naples fish seller’s obsession with being on Big Brother. It should be relatable the world over as the Big Brother franchise has been all over the globe. Me? I’ve never seen two minutes of the thing but obviously it has cachet as ABC wants to launch a similar version of their own and CBS is threatening to sue. The Italian version as depicted here looks like reality TV filtered through the eyes of Fellini. It’s bizarre, but the familiar concept probably guarantees an American distrib deal any day. I talked to more than one leading distrib who is anxiously awaiting their screening on Saturday. Lead actor Aniello Arena is terrific as the would-be contestant who goes slowly crazy wondering if he will ever be picked to be part of the show, a true human circus unlike Madagascar but exactly like Cannes.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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