Penguins of Madagascar, 2014
Directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith
Featuring the voice talents of Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru, Peter Stormare.
Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private join forces with undercover organization The North Wind to stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine from destroying the world as we know it.
If you’re a popular supporting character in a likable animated film right now, life is good. In the next three years, we’ll be getting standalone adventures for LEGO Batman, Dory from Finding Nemo and Despicable Me’s Minions. First up in this increasingly popular trend though is Penguins of Madagascar; Shining the spotlight on the flightless scene-stealers of the Madagascar series, it’s a sufficiently entertaining watch.
The opening minutes of the film are basically Penguins of Madagascar: Origins – narrated by Werner Herzog no less – as we reunite with Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) as babies and then discover how Private (Christopher Knights) came to be the fourth member of the group. From there we fast forward to the more familiarly-sized penguins, and eventually they team-up with Northwind – another elite animal outfit, led by Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch) – to help bring down the evil Dr Octavius Brine (John Malkovich).
That the plot is set into motion when the villain captures our heroes by disguising himself as a vending machine in Fort Knox (did I just write that sentence?!) is a testament to the full-on ridiculousness of the world. Brandon Sawyer’s script aims to keep both story and gags coming fast and loose so we don’t pay too much heed to it, with mixed results. Where Penguins of Madagascar is an unbridled success though is when it focuses on its main draw – that of the militaristic penguins themselves working together as a unit – and to that end the numerous chase sequences are frantic, energetic, and extremely entertaining.
There are a few subplots the film gives time to when the focus isn’t on Northwind & Team Penguin vs. Dr Brine, but none of them are particularly deep or involving. There’s always a sense that you’re waiting for the characters to have their moments rather than being actively engaged in what our heroes do. In the end, they turn out to be mawkish and unnecessary, and though the 90 minute running time never grates, there is easily 10-15 minutes that could have happily been cut.
What is above reproach though is the voice acting, which is superb across the board. McGrath, Miller, Vernon and Knights all have great chemistry with one another, and the fact that they aren’t big names makes it even easier to just enjoy the characters. That’s not to say there aren’t any big names here; that quota is met by Cumberbatch and Malkovich, both of whom embody their characters well.
Penguins of Madagascar never comes close to scaling the upper echelon of recent animated fare, but it’s light and breezy animated fun for both the kids and the bigger kids this Christmas.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★