To think that back years ago when Madagascar was released we all thought we were watching a one-off, slightly above standard children’s film. We were wrong. We were actually watching a soon-to-be franchise that wouldn’t just span two sequels, but a TV show and now a spin-off movie. That movie is Penguins of Madagascar.
You may know of them from their TV show or the previous movies, and you may find them charming and funny. That’s because they kind of are. I mean they’re penguins. However, asking for them to carry a full film is a bit of stretch one would think. Then again children’s movies aren’t always about thinking.
Penguins of Madagascar
Directors: Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith
Release Date: November 26, 2014
Been hiding in an animation free zone of the world for a while? Here’s the basic set up. The penguins are four penguins who we were originally introduced to in the Madagascar films. They’re under the delusion (or maybe they actually are) that they are an elite military style team that rescues those in need. The team is comprised of Skipper, the team leader, Kowalski, the brains, Rico, the brawn, and Private, the cute one. We find them suddenly kidnapped by an evil octopus named Dave who is hell bent on destroying all penguins since they’re so cute. Thankfully the penguins escape, but they run into an actual elite team of rescuers headed by Classified. The two teams struggle to work together to stop Dave and in the end good triumphs over evil… oh, sorry… obvious spoiler alert.
If you’re looking for anything above the most basic of children’s comedy this isn’t your movie. This one is played straight for the kids, and doesn’t try to get much smarter. That’s not a complaint at all. The smartest the comedy gets in the film is an ongoing gag where Dave’s henchman’s names line up with famous actors (eg. “Nicholas, cage them!”). Actually, that one gets pretty clever by the end, but still this isn’t some sort of Shrek outing where you’re laughing at clever riffs on topical subjects.
That doesn’t mean the movie is bad. The characters of the penguins are charming in and of themselves and thanks to the cast working so long together it’s clear they know how to work off each other even if it it is all voice acting. This is a finely honed movie, it’s just that all the honing is directed at entertaining children. They know their audience and they hit it.
One could criticize the film for not being too adventurous. It is basically an extra long episode of the television show. If there are those who care about canon in the world of Madagascar I don’t think the show take place in the same universe as the movie, but maybe it does. Either way, it isn’t much of an upgrade from the show. The animation is better, but not stellar and the writing is spot on. Maybe the hijinks are bit more grandiose, but never to the point that you think of it as a bigger film. The biggest upgrade is in the voice acting with John Malkovich playing Dave and Benedict Cumberbatch playing Classified.
Penguins of Madagascar is a move that never tries to push anything and succeeds wonderfully at being what it is. One can’t fault a film for living up to what it is supposed to be even if what it is supposed to be isn’t anything above your average children’s fodder. Penguins is fun enough to see with the kids, but, like its namesake, can’t take flight.