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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Penguins of Madagascar
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by Jay Seaver

"A much better alternative than a King Julien spinoff."
4 stars

DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar" series turned out much better than could be expected, but came to a natural end with number three. Not that this will necessarily stop them from making more, but if the big-name voice cast also feels like it's done, it's a good thing they've got some obvious characters to spin off in the scene-stealing penguins. And while it's always risky to give characters designed to be fun in small doses movies of their own, "Penguins of Madagascar" is fast-paced and amusing enough to keep the kids in the audience entertained.

It starts with a flashback to ten years ago, when fluffy kid penguins Skipper (voice of Tom McGrath), Kowalski (voice of Chris Miller), and Rico (voice of Conrad Vernon) stepped out of their flock's endless march to chase a loose egg, from which hatches Private (voice of Christopher Knights), and kicks off a series of events that ignite their taste for adventure. In the present, that means bailing on the circus from the last movie to infiltrate Fort Knox - only to be hijacked to Venice by mad scientist Dr. Octavius Brine (voice of John Malkovich). In escaping, they cross paths with four agents from an agency called The North Wind: Polar bear Corporal (voice of Peter Stormare), seal Short Fuse (voice of Ken Jeong), snow owl Eva (voice of Annet Mahendru), and wolf Classified (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) - not his actual name, but what Skipper starts calling him, and given that sort of misunderstanding, it's not surprising that the North Wind team underestimates the penguins' potential contribution.

It's pretty obvious where the movie is going to go from almost minute one - folks dismiss penguins as not being particularly capable because they're cute, whether it be Classified looking down his snout at Skipper and company or the older penguins constantly underestimating Private, so you can confidently lay money on Private having to save the day in the final act. But while an adult can see it coming from a mile away, that doesn't mean kids watching it (especially during the holiday season, which can be an endless string of relatives saying they're so cute and are growing up too fast) won't know exactly how the penguins feel. Maybe you don't need four writers to come up with this, but it is a little impressive how they and directors Eric Darnell & Simon J. Smith are able to both build gags around penguins being cute and the rebellious nature of these characters who don't necessarily want that reputation.

The penguins' appeal in the previous movies (and TV series) has always been playing broadly against type, although they've also always been a varied enough group that the four of them have distinct enough personalities to banter. As the most verbal, Tom McGrath's Skipper and Chris Miller's Kowalski get the best lines and biggest personalities, and it admittedly starts to wear a bit thin - these are characters built to be the even more cartoony comic relief in an already wacky movie, so putting them in lead roles means that shtick starts getting repeated and the likes of Rico who can start to seem dumb rather than hilarious. The jokes that do work hit pretty well, especially with Classified as a differently full-of-himself foil to Skipper (and Benedict Cumberbatch making it even funnier by being famously unable to properly pronounce "penguin"). There are some goofy celebrity reference jokes to apparently fill in how the best celebrity voice is used in the first five minutes and will probably fly right past much of the audience, but even those are at least imipressive in how groan-worthy they are as puns.

And, as is almost always the case with DreamWorks's animated movies, it not only looks great but moves unusually well. A fair amount of the movie is quick back-and-forth Three Stooges-style slapstick that zings at just the right pace, but some bits are just inspired, whether it's the quickly morphing chase in Venice or the well-short-of-scary weirdness toward the end. I love the squishy design of "Brine", a nifty mix of how cartoons can do anything and how action/adventure tales need a certain sort of physical believability. The use of 3D is top-notch, with the studio's commitment to using the format well actually helping to keep the movie from getting too frantic.

"Penguins of Madagascar" is in many ways about what one might expect it to be - an even more lightweight spinoff of a franchise that wasn't exactly sophisticated to begin with. If a movie's going to be that, though, it should probably aspire to be as quick and funny as this one. The kids will have a good time, the adults will grin, and going to the well one more time won't seem like a terrible idea.

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originally posted: 12/01/14 15:41:10
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User Comments

6/25/18 Leonora P Love the penguins! Enormous fun! 4 stars
9/08/15 Dr. Lao As grating and inane as we have come to expect from a Madagascar movie 1 stars
4/25/15 zenny moderately clever kid flick. gimmie one! 3 stars
3/28/15 Charles Tatum Surprisingly hilarious, and never boring! 4 stars
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  26-Nov-2014 (PG)
  DVD: 17-Mar-2015

  05-Dec-2014 (U)

  DVD: 17-Mar-2015

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