By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
This spin-off movie, featuring the lovable characters from the Madagascar series, is cute and funny, but often too cartoonish for its own good. Much like the Mr. Peabody and Sherman feature film, Penguins of Madagascar has plenty of old school, cartoon humor with all of its jocular word play and physical gags. That old vaudevillian style of humor from classic cartoons is ever present and certainly adds to the enjoyment of the movie, especially for those raised on Looney Toons and Merry Melodies. While this won’t matter much to the younger audience members, the film’s main issues come from some dragging moments in the middle of the movie and the jokes that get overplayed.
The film starts out as an origin story for the heroes. After deciding to leave their marching brethren in Antartica, Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), and Rico (Conrad Vernon) rescue a loose penguin egg from which hatches the young Private (Christopher Knights). The movie flashes forward to the present where they encounter an enemy from their past named Dr. Octavius Brine, aka Dave the Octopus (John Malkovich). Dave was once a resident of the Central Park Zoo and always played second fiddle to the popular penguin exhibit. After escaping the zoo, Dave has some depraved plans for all the penguins of the world, including his former colleagues from Central Park. The guys team up with the North Wind, a special ops group led by a gray wolf whose name is “Classified” (Benedict Cumberbatch) and attempt to stop Dave’s plans.
Directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith and written by John Aboud, Michael Colton and Brandon Sawyer, Penguins of Madagascar will mostly appeal to younger audiences, but does have enough enjoyable humor and action for the adults. The computer animation looks lovely and doesn’t benefit much from the so-so 3D conversion work. In fact, the darker 3D version probably takes away from the gorgeous and vibrant colors used. Regardless of which version one chooses, Penguins of Madagascar is a visual feast that will leave kids and adults wide-eyed. Despite its flaws, the movie is a good time overall for audiences of all ages.
The voice cast does a tremendous work in bringing these fun characters to life. In addition to the talents mentioned above, the movie features performances by Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru, Peter Stormare, and Andy Richter. I won’t reveal who plays whom, because part of the fun of watching animated movies is guessing the voices behind the characters. I thought of revealing one particular voice cameo, but that name is too much fun to discover on one’s own and it is a name that film buffs can appreciate.
This movie does have much to appreciate, but not enough for me to recommend it as a full priced ticket. This is one title that families can enjoy on a weekend afternoon when needing a break from holiday shopping. If the holidays have already filled up one’s schedule, then this one can wait for a rental, but good luck with convincing an excited kid to sit this one out.