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A Lion, a zebra, and Sherlock Holmes walk into a circus…

Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle Madagascar 3

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and Dr. Bell & Mr. Doyle: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes

Sometime in the distant past, I rented Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle and liked it a bit.  But it was a while ago, and apparently not with Jenny, as she has no memory of it.  So we watched it again.  Madagascar 3 we saw in the theater with the kids the weekend it opened.  Bell and Doyle tells the fictionalized but truthy account of Arthur Conan Doyle’s study with Dr. Joseph Bell, an early pioneer in forensic detection and the clear inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.  Together, they track a notorious serial killer who murders his way across London. It this was also the opening episode of the BBC series Murder Rooms, which continues the stories of Bell and Doyle.  A few thoughts about the two films:

  •  Both films involve a serial killer.  One murders a variety of people across London, leaving behind a stack of coins as a calling card.  The other murders a variety of animals in her guise as Chief of Animal Control, leaving behind headless corpses (she harvests the heads for her office).
  • Esoteric skills become crucial to the protagonists in each film.  Madagascar‘s animals must learn the arcane circus arts, but they do so by challenging the old rules about what circuses should be.  Dr. Bell teaches Doyle similarly idiosyncratic rules, challenging customs of policework instead.
  • When a chase scene ends on a roof, you know it’s great.  In this realm, Dr. Bell‘s chase of the killer onto the connected rooftops of London thrills, but can’t compare to the raucous riot of delight that was Madagascar 3‘s chase through the streets–and over the roofs–of Monte Carlo.
  • When life gets hard, it’s important to keep track of the small bits of jewelry that have a lot of meaning to you.  Mr. Doyle takes care to keep close his father’s pocket watch, a lovely remnant of his more promising days.  Vitaly, Madagascar’s leaping contortionist tiger, takes equal care of the ridiculously small ring through he leaps for the finale of his act.

The films aren’t entirely the same, despite what you’d think from the above.  To whit:

  • Madagascar 3 has ZERO wives whose husbands gave them syphilis after visiting a brothel, and Dr. Bell features not one military penguin.

Madagascar 3 is a delight, a good end (hopefully) to the amusing cartoon series.  It’s funny and sincere, with lots of great jokes for grown ups and plenty for kids to like.  Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle is fine, but not great.  As the first episode of a BBC series, I’d say it’s pretty good (especially for something made more than a decade ago).  It’s not a great film, but it establishes the characters nicely and prepares you for a continued story.  Be warned, though, it fits the old BBC model in which slow pacing is the order of the day.

Last, here’s the 10-minute circus afro challenge.  I’ll leave it a mystery as to which film this video comes from:

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