Tweetable Takeaway: Penguins of Madagascar is breezy, cheesy poof filled fun for the whole family.
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
If you thought to yourself while watching March of the Penguins that it could really use about 140% more puns in Morgan Freeman’s narration, or that it would be far more exciting if the penguins were breaking into a super secure military base instead of just waddling around, then PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR might just be the movie of the year for you. The movie has all of the above, plus an extended sequence involving a penguin chomping on a cheesy poof. It’s basically the Casablanca of penguin movies. Okay, maybe more Duck Soup.
The movie begins with a smartly used narration by Werner Herzog as a documentary filmmaker showing us the origin story of the four penguins, because of course, in a movie that takes extremely minor characters from another movie franchise, it wouldn’t feel complete without seeing how it all began. Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico are baby penguins in Antarctica and save an egg from leopard seals. The egg hatches and cute Private is born, the quartet is complete.
Cut to modern day, and the four are breaking into Fort Knox to steal one of the world’s most precious resources. I’m referring of course to Cheezy Dibbles, cheese puff junk food that is basically opium in the world of penguins. Before the four can start chowing on the cheesy goodness, they are met with the film’s main villain, an octopus by the truly sinister name of Dave. Dave is voiced by John Malkovich, which according to IMDb trivia, is the first animated film to be graced by Malkovich’s voice. Apparently we are at the age in which it’s noteworthy when an actor finally breaks down and voices a cartoon animal.
The zoo-going public used to watch Dave do tricks, but when penguins arrived on the scene, everyone went to check out the little featherballs and left the slimy octopus alone. Now Dave wants revenge. Kill the penguins? Heavens no, this is a PG movie! Instead, Dave intends to take away the cuteness of all the penguins in the world with a special serum, and it’s up to Skipper and the gang to stop him. Oh, and along for the ride are four new characters that make up The North Wind. Besides the main wolf voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, they’re mostly forgettable and threaten to overcrowd the movie.
The movie’s pacing is breezy and entertaining, and the jokes flung around by the penguins are consistently amusing. Puns abound, surprisingly groan-free for the most part. The first two-thirds of the movie is one long chase scene, helping keep the film entertaining. Although The North Wind is probably two characters too many, some of the movie’s best moments come from the interplay between the two sets of good guys both trying to stop Dave. The North Wind are more James Bond gadgets, whereas the penguins take a more brawny, militaristic approach in their missions.
There is a small aim at throwing on a theme of making yourself a meaningful member of a team when nobody believes in you, but it’s slight and not overdone. In a movie such as this one, which doesn’t intend to really comment on the human condition in any deep manner, there’s always the risk of tacking on a theme right at the end that feels far too fake and overly sappy. Fortunately, this is a movie smart enough to know what it is, and the small character arcs that exist feel just right. The voice acting all around is terrific, especially in the four penguins. In a refreshing move, the movie keeps the same voice actors from the previous Madagascar movies instead of replacing them with more famous, well-known actors. In particular, Tom McGrath’s voice work as Skipper makes the movie, with pitch perfect comedic timing and moxie as the leader of the four penguins. Penguins of Madagascar isn’t the animated movie of the year, but it is great, fast-moving fun for the kids, and plenty of wordplay and pop culture references for the parents and everyone in between. I give Penguins of Madagascar 3 Cheezy Dibbles out of 5
Score: 3 out of 5