Don’t blame the filmmakers of Penguins of Madagascar for the recent troubles at Dreamworks Animation. The movie may feel like the company just cashing in on the most popular characters of their Madagascar franchise (the animated TV show certainly did), but this movie is original and funny, two words I didn’t think I’d be writing about it. Moreover, I liked Penguins of Madagascar more than Big Hero 6, Disney’s Academy Award nominated blockbuster.
The film opens in fine fashion with a prologue that explains how the four penguin heroes met at children. Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon), break away from their colony and rescue a lost egg from hungry leopard seals. All of this is done while Werner Herzong provides commentary and a human documentary crew films – quite funny. The egg hatches and turns out to be cuddly Private (Christopher Knights). After escaping a fiery boat explosion, the four young penguins drift off to sea on an iceberg, their future uncertain.
Jump ahead ten years and the action picks up at the very end of Madagascar 3, with the circus animals from those films singing and dancing, and the penguins desperate to flee so they don’t have to here “I Like to Move It” one more time. They break into Fort Knox, not for the gold, but for the last vending machine with Cheese Dibbles. The penguins are suddenly taken hostage by an angry octopus named Dave (John Malkovich), who holds a grudge for being rejected by the public for the cuteness of the penguins. Dave has a master plan to rid the world of all penguins and make them ugly freaks of nature.
The penguins escape from Dave, and after a madcap chase through the canals and streets of Venice, they meet the North Wind, a group of secret agent animals who are out to stop Dave’s dastardly plan. They are “Classified,” (Benedict Cumberbatch), a gray wolf and the team leader, Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), a harp seal explosions expert, Eva (Annet Mahendru), a Russian snow owl intelligence analyst, and Corporal (Peter Stormare), a polar bear and the team muscle.
Skipper and Classified immediately butt heads, each believing they’re the better leader. Kowalski falls hard for Eva, and Private questions his usefulness. In true secret agent movie fashion, the two teams have to cooperate in order to save the world’s penguin population. This all leads to a third act confrontation in New York City that may be the story’s weakest part, but is still fun to watch.
As with most animated films these days, the CG animation in Penguins of Madagascar is a visual marvel. Because all of these movies are so dazzling, and they all follow a strict Save the Cat story structure, it comes down to the jokes and the performances for me. Penguins of Madagascar is funny and full of enough witty humor to keep parents invested. As for the excellent cast, everyone has hilarious moments and give memorable performances, most notably Malkovich, who hasn’t been this goofy or funny since he hosted SNL back in the 80s.
I would love to see more adventures with the penguins and the North Wind team, if that was ever possible.
Penguins of Madagascar is now available to download in HD. It will be released on Blu-ray in mid-March. If you’re trying to find a solid family movie that will keep everyone entertained, check it out.