I was one of the few people here at Animated Views and in our forums who was actually looking forward to the release of Penguins of Madagascar. The original Madagascar is one of my favorite DreamWorks films, though I do admit it’s the side characters like the penguins and lemurs I love the most. That said, I wasn’t expecting a Best Picture nomination for this film either. The Penguins, like Scrat from the Ice Age franchise and the Minions from Despicable Me series, take me back to the zany cartoons of the past where fun and humor were the only goals, not high art. And to be honest it’s refreshing to be able to go into a theatre knowing you’re guaranteed to get an hour and half of laughs and not have to focus too hard on the plot and its meaning — and whether you’re actually going to enjoy it at all.
This is the part of the review where I usually give a spoiler-free synopsis of the plot. But there’s really not much to say. This is 90 minutes of the psychotic penguins (as Alex calls them in Madagascar) doing what they do best. In this outing they are trying to outwit both an octopus-in-a-human-suit bad guy who is out for revenge and another cute and cuddly group of animal agents, called the North Wind, trying to steal their thunder.
The story, such as it is, gives our protagonists plenty of opportunities to do ridiculous secret agent stuff. The bad guy is preposterously silly. The biggest failing in the film is the rival secret agent group are so boring by comparison. Not only are they boring, they really aren’t all that central to the plot. You could almost cut them out completely with minimal rewriting required. Which would leave even more time for the penguins and the main antagonist. The humor in the film is, as expected, non-stop. Not every joke is a hit, but the next one is coming fast and is sure to be better. The story itself is completely absurd and gets more laughably ludicrous as it moves forward.
The art is nothing special, but the usual high quality you would expect from a major animation company in 2014. The character designs are hit or miss. The octopus villain is wonderfully comical. But his henchman are basically all cookie-cutter copies. The rival North Wind characters are somewhat interesting. And there’s not much you can do with a bunch of penguins, I guess.
The voice acting was a big part of the film’s fun. Tom McGrath’s Skipper is one of my absolute favorite character voices. The rest of the penguins (Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, and Conrad Vernon) all have their parts down hysterically at this point. While Benedict Cumberbatch got most of the press for his part as Classified (and did a perfectly acceptable job with it), John Malkovich stole the show from him as the insane Dave the octopus. The rest of the North Wind (Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru, and Peter Stormare) were good as well.
There really isn’t a lot to say about a film like Penguins of Madagascar. It’s not Pixar, but it’s not trying to be either. It compares much more favorably with the Looney Tunes cartoons of the past — zany, silly fun for fun’s sake. And, Hoover Dam, does it succeed!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
The Penguins of Madagascar
November 26, 2014
directed by Eric Darnell & Simon J. Smith