Penguins of Madagascar

Animation Review

The scene-stealing penguins from the “Madagascar” movies get their own spin-off in the 2014 rightfully named “Penguins of Madagascar,” and yes, I know this is my 800th review, which is hard to believe.

One would think a little of these eccentric animals would go a long way. Christy Lemire said in her review, “And indeed, this family-friendly animated comedy from co-directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith is predicated on a single joke: the idea that these overconfident penguins—who fancy themselves as super spies—are completely bumbling and inept, yet they manage to wriggle out of every tricky situation not only to survive but thrive and save the day.”

Lemire continued, “But the pacing is so zany, the jokes are so rapid-fire and the sight gags are so inspired that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the infectious energy of it all.” The script (John Aboud, Michael Colton and Brandon Sawyer) finds enough paths into that one joke to the make the story look, if not consistently fresh, at least enjoyable. Thanks to the great voice cast, with John Malkovich and the everywhere Benedict Cumberbatch, takes this funny movie really seriously, and that’s one of the most humorous parts of all.

“Penguins of Madagascar” makes both an origin story and a spin-off, at it follows these funny animals on an adventure of their own. (The zoo animals from the original franchise are not to be seen here.) We begin in Antarctica, where a long line of penguins is walking across the harsh, snowy area to nowhere, because (as even they admit) they’re not allowed to think for themselves. Lemire said, “This is just what they do—and what the documentary crews expect them to do, in a knowing jab at the over-saturation of penguin-related properties over the past decade or so.”

Lemire continued, “Once the familiar, raspy tones of Werner Herzog’s narration kick in, describing the penguins’ dismal state in his typically wonderful, dramatic way, we know we’re in for a whole ‘nother level of humor aimed exclusively at the adults in the audience. Yes, all animated movies are crammed with self-referential jokes and cheeky pop-culture references, but “Penguins of Madagascar” does this consistently well. The fact that so much of the word play is so intentionally groan-worthy—including a running bit involving celebrity names—is part of the fun.”

The cool Skipper, voiced by the franchise veteran Tom McGrath, is the foursome’s so-called leader. Kowlaski, voiced by Chris Miller, is the smartest of the team and the group’s famous negativist. Rico, voiced by Conrad Vernon, the least developed of the four, mainly swallows things and makes grunting noises, but he’s useful immediately. Then there’s the nice and innocent private, voiced by Christopher Knights, the actual little brother that the other three have known from the moment he hatched.

During one of their secret missions, they find themselves kidnapped by Dr. Octavious Brine, voiced by Malkovich, a mad scientist who’s actually an evil, shape-shifting octopus incognito named Dave. Appears he’s been tracking the four penguins all around the world, offended by the fact that they keep beating him to the punch at different zoos and aquariums. His goal is to capture as many penguins as possible from around the world and inject them with a serum that will turn them into evil versions of themselves and make them look less cute and pleasing to the people.

(Lemire noted, “This was essentially the motivation of the dastardly El Macho in “Despicable Me 2,” by the way. He kidnapped nearly all of Gru’s minions, shot them up with high-tech jelly and turned them into an army of evil, purple minions to help him carry out his nefarious plan. I have a 5-year-old; I’ve seen this movie a lot.”)

Lemire said, “Skipper and his pals try to thwart Dave’s plan, but also on his tail (or his tentacles) is a group of legitimate animal super spies led by a wolf whose name is Classified, in a bit of who’s-on-first humor.” Cumberbatch voices the character with complete power and dignity, and to think that he has this and the voice of the evil dragon Smaug from the famous “Hobbit” trilogy in him – as well as the smart mathematician Alan Turing in the 2014 “The Imitation Game” – shows to his unlimited flexibility.

Simply from here, it’s spies vs. spies in a series of wild action scenes, and the incidents are a bit weak after a while. “Penguins of Madagascar” looks perfect for 90 minutes, and couldn’t have run any longer. Still, if you’re going around doing some shopping and looking for a small break, you’ll be happy you saw this spin-off with these penguins.

Look, I know this movie may not be good because it’s a spin-off focusing on the comedic side characters, like “Cars 2” and “Finding Dory” did, but I think this one is actually funny and I think this one should be seen. If you loved the trilogy, this one you will definitely like this one. Check it out and give it a chance. There are talks of a fourth “Madagascar” movie, but who knows when that will be, just like we don’t know when DreamWorks will come out with a fifth “Shrek.”

Thank you everyone for joining in on “Madagascar Month.” I hope everyone enjoyed it and hopefully there are those who have seen the movie if they haven’t. Stay tuned next month when I start back up “Black History Movie Month.”

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