Throughout the first Madagascar film, four cuddly penguins remained on the sidelines, waddling onscreen whenever comic relief was needed. In 2008, the penguins were given their own television show but limited profits caused it to be cancelled in 2012, after only three seasons. Now, directors Eric Darnell (Madagascar) and Simon J. Smith (Bee Movie) have decided to give the beloved penguins another go in their own film, entitled Penguins of Madagascar.
We open up with a prologue detailing how the four penguins came together. As soon as the voice-over narration by Werner Herzog is heard, audience should know what they’re in for, and that’s material that can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike. As Herzog’s documentary crew observes, Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) are trailing their leader Skipper (Tom McGrath) along a line of other penguins. As the trio is marching, an egg rolls by. The penguins chase the egg, and after a dangerous encounter with sea lions, the egg hatches into Private (Christopher Knights), completing the penguin quartet.
With the origin story out of the way, the film returns to the island of Madagascar. Bored with their zoo-mates’ crazy antics, the penguins travel to Fort Knox, where they attempt a high-stakes heist. Appropriately, it is not the thousands of pounds of gold they’re after, but instead, a vending machine filled entirely with Cheese Dibbles. Upon entrance into Fort Knox, the penguins are ambushed by Doctor Octavius Brine a.k.a. Dave (John Malkovich), a vengeful octopus who seeks to transform all the penguins in the world into hideous mutants. With the help of a secret organization called The North Wind – headed by the Benedict Cumberbatch voiced Agent Classified – the penguins must fight to stop Dave before he destroys penguin-kind as we know it.
The four penguins were always the highlights of the previous Madagascar films, so it is no surprise that they’re finally getting a big screen spinoff. Yet, when the penguins appeared in the earlier films, it was only for a few minutes at a time. This may leave some to wonder whether or not they can in fact carry an entire feature themselves, without their repetitive gags becoming stale. Fortunately, the four characters somehow manage to remain entirely entertaining for the film’s ninety-minute running time, even though they happen to be doing the exact same thing from start to finish.
Over the last few years, John Malkovich has taken on some rather bizarre roles. With an opera-singing Casanova, a pirate, and a Transformers movie under his belt, it is surprising to note that Penguins of Madagascar is the actor’s first animated film. Unsurprisingly, it is his voice that commands the entire outing. The two-time Oscar nominee brings his expected gravitas to Penguins of Madagascar, and the result is a strangely sympathetic villain that the film leans upon heavily.
On the heroes’ side of things, the Cumberbatch-lead North Wind is ultimately underwhelming. The organization serves as a foil to the penguins’ down-and-dirty style of action. Both groups have the same level of 007-type gizmos, so besides a member of the North Wind serving as a love interest, they serve basically no purpose.
In terms of humor, audiences should not expect much in the sense of innuendo. The humor is clearly dedicated strictly to children, with the only joke for adults revolving around a series of puns involving celebrity names. Ultimately, the penguins are cute and the never-ending stream of sight gags will keep kids and adults alike from ever becoming bored. It is only in the film’s final act that things begin to become tired, but thankfully, the directors know just where to stop, and the credits roll before the characters become irritable.
While it may not be worth the 3D surcharge, Penguins of Madagascar is an entertaining enough way to keep kids occupied for ninety-minutes, without driving adults crazy. The jokes are fast and the penguins are as cuddly as ever, and isn’t that what we’re all here for anyway?
Penguins of Madagascar is a great film for the kiddies and a pain-free ninety-minutes for their parents.