Not long after DreamWorks Animation released its over-the-top, all-star comedy “Madagascar” in 2005, the studio was already thinking about having the film’s breakout characters, the slick and suave Penguins, headline their own movie. Now, nearly 10 years later (and following two more “Madagascar” films and a “Penguins” TV series on Nickelodeon), the Penguins are finally starring in their first big screen adventure.
“Penguins of Madagascar”, the final animated film of 2014, doesn’t disappoint. It’s entertaining throughout, with loads of laughs. The opening 10 minutes, which includes both origin and backstories, features some of the best jokes in the entire movie. Years before they meet Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria at New York City’s Central Park Zoo, the Penguins lived in the cold, Antarctica tundra. The much younger and smaller versions of fast-talking Skipper, his right-hand man Kowalski, and maniac eater Rico go on their first mission, saving a stray penguin egg. All of this is captured by a documentary film crew, of course. The egg soon hatches and Private is born. The trio take Private under their flippers and head-off into the future.
The rest of “Penguins of Madagascar” takes place following the events of 2012’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”. Skipper and the others decide to leave the circus because they’re getting sick of listening to the song “Afro Circus” over and over again. They quickly go head-to-head with a nemesis (who actually has some history with the Penguins): Dr. Octavius Brine (aka Dave, voiced by John Malkovich), an evil scientist/octopus who’s out for revenge.
This cat-and-mouse (or octopus-and-penguin) chase leads the Penguins to Venice, where they meet-up with with an elite, high-tech group of secret agent animals called The North Wind. These guys are also trying to take down Dave, who’s kidnapping all the penguins in the world. Their leader, Agent Classified (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, who in real-life and in the film, can’t say the word ‘penguin’ correctly) is a hungry wolf who doesn’t want or need the Penguins’ help. The clash of rival spy groups is a fresh and interesting storyline that works quite well, though some of the conversation scenes between the two teams slow the pacing down and create some brief lulls.
While it is a spy/action adventure, “Penguins of Madagascar” works best as a comedy. The writers, directors, and talented voice cast know how to make the well-established Penguins characters both smart and funny. There are several running jokes, including the different names Skipper
calls Dave that also start with a D, and Dave’s celebrity-filled commands to
his octopi assistants. At times the writers do get a little carried away with the puns. The script is filled with sharp one-liners ranging from goofy to downright brilliant. And the well thought-out plot is allowed to come full circle, with an emotionally satisfying final act.
There are more blockbuster action scenes in “Penguins” than in all three “Madagascar” films combined, meaning it will appeal to a younger audience (kids 7-12), as well as those who appreciate the gags and clever dialogue. And visually, the vibrant and electric animation style will be a hit with everyone.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Penguins of Madagascar” gets a B+. “Well done, Kowalski!”