Directed by: Eric Darnell & Simon J. Smith.
Written by: John Aboud and Michael Colton and Brandon Sawyer and Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons based on characters created by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath.
Starring: Tom McGrath (Skipper), Chris Miller (Kowalski), Christopher Knights (Private), Conrad Vernon (Rico), John Malkovich (Dave), Benedict Cumberbatch (Classified), Ken Jeong (Short Fuse), Annet Mahendru (Eva), Peter Stormare (Corporal), Werner Herzog (Documentary Filmmaker).
I had low expectations for Penguins of Madagascar heading into the movie – I was really only going because my 3-year olds favorite animals are penguins – but the first few scenes in the movie had me thinking that perhaps the movie wouldn’t be so bad after all. The film opens with narration of a documentarian filming the penguins – and the filmmakers picked the perfect the person to provide that narration – Werner Herzog. His narration gave me more laughs than the rest of the movie combined, and I was sorry he was only in the first few moments of the films. The film then flashes forward to the end of Madagascar 3 – and again made me laugh, as our four penguin heroes express the same feeling I had about that film – namely get us the hell out of here. Unfortunately, from there the movie settles more into the same type of thing as the other Madagascar films – lots of fast moving action, blinding colors, low humor, etc. It’s still probably my favorite of the now four films in the Madagascar films – but that doesn’t mean that it’s very good.
The Penguins have always been people’s favorite supporting characters in the films – and they are better characters than the four main characters in those films, which have always been somewhat annoying to me. But as with other popular supporting characters in animated films – from Scrat in Ice Age to Puss in Boots from Shrek – supporting characters are probably where they should stay. A little of them go a long way.
This movie puts the four penguins – the leader, Skipper, the thinker, Kowalski, the muscle Rico and the cute but dim private – into a complicated action movie. Dave (voiced, brilliantly, by John Malkovich) is an octopus, with a grudge against penguin-kind – he has been jettisoned from every zoo because everyone wants to see the adorable penguins, and not a gross octopus. This all started with these four – and he is out for vengeance against them, and then all penguins. The four try and stop them – but also have to deal with North Wind – a secret organization out to protect animals who cannot protect themselves. But while North Wind may have all the technology they need – they aren’t as smart as the Penguins.
The movie moves very fast – and it is fairly entertaining. There is a running joke – a stupid one admittedly – that made me laugh every time, as Dave unwittingly says celebrity names as he is giving his minions orders. I have a hard time believing that kids aren’t going to enjoy the film – it certainly held my daughters attention throughout, who quite enjoyed it. And it’s not a painful experience, as some kids movies are, for the parents. But it never really gets to the point where the comedy is sustained – where older viewers can truly just let go and enjoy the insanity on screen. Its decent – it’s well done and mildly amusing – and a step up from the other movies in the series. It’s still not a very good movie, but it’s not that bad either.