Penguins of Madagascar: A Review

While the central stars may not have demanded their standalone film, ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ manages to justify its existence with a wealth of child-friendly humor and wit. The film takes us back to the origins of three beloved penguins, Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico, who are joined by the adorable Private after a daring rescue when he was still an egg. In the present day, just after the events of ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,’ the Penguins embark on a mission to break into Fort Knox to find a special gift for Private’s birthday.

Their mission takes an unexpected turn when they encounter Dave, a vengeful octopus from their past with a sinister plan involving all the world’s captive penguins. Fleeing from Dave and his octo-minions, they cross paths with a cross-species task force, led by the pompous grey wolf “Classified,” part of the North Wind organization dedicated to saving helpless animals. But can the Penguins handle this new team’s help, or will they take on Dave and save the day by themselves?

Co-directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith, ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ gives these Madagascar supporting characters their own feature-length adventure, separate from their spinoff TV series. The Penguins, previously portrayed as relatively static characters, struggle to carry the movie as protagonists. Nevertheless, the film compensates with a rapid-fire delivery of jokes, both visual and verbal, offering more hits than misses. The Penguins, with their endearing personalities, provide enough heart to anchor the madcap cartoon mayhem.

The animation in ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ blends cartoonish charm with photo-realistic detail, meeting industry standards for quality but falling short of recent heights set by other animation studios like Pixar and Disney. However, the film excels as a 3D viewing experience, offering engaging visuals and action sequences without relying on gimmicks.

The voice cast, including Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, and Christopher Knights, brings life to their characters. John Malkovich makes his animated feature debut with a hammy and fitting performance as the film’s antagonist, Dave. Benedict Cumberbatch, though not a stretch for his talent, delivers a spot-on performance as “Classified,” adding a touch of sophistication to the comedy.

Classified’s North Wind team, including Short Fuse, Eva, and Corporal, remain one-note characters, with limited time in the spotlight. The film also features a clever vocal cameo that cinephiles will appreciate, even if it sails over the heads of younger viewers.

‘Penguins of Madagascar’ may not have been a necessary addition to the franchise, but its abundance of child-friendly humor and non-stop wit justifies its existence. The film’s appeal varies among adults and children, with some remembering their favorite gags, but not much else. Nonetheless, as a source of pure, zany cartoon comedy, the film accomplishes its mission admirably.

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