Could have been better!
Fun, but lacks the charm of other Madagascar instalments.
Dreamworks has certainly picked a good time to release its latest film; with John Lewis’ Monty the Penguin sending kids and grown ups alike into a festive frenzy, there couldn’t be a better time for Penguins of Madagascar to be released. However, despite a good cast, some funny quips, and characters who have already proved entertaining in other installments of the Madagascar franchise, this film feels like quick, easy filler for Dreamworks, while they work on something much better. It definitely is a shame as the film had the potential to be so much more.
After the events of Madagascar 3, penguins Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon), and Private (Christopher Knights) literally blast off into another adventure. They must stop Dave (John Malkovich), an evil octopus posing as a human scientist (with references to Octodad), who wants revenge on the cute and cuddly penguins that got him thrown out of every zoo. Using his Medusa Serum, he wants to turn all penguins into hideous, freaky mutants, a bit like the plot from Despicable Me 2. Also on the case is top-class task force, The North Wind, led by grey wolf, Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), who wants the helpless Penguins to stay out of his way. It’s quite a messy plot, with chase scenes and dramatic twists haphazardly thrown together, but it still manages to be entertaining.
The penguins themselves are the stars of the show. Their various personalities, mixed with the fast-paced events of the film, make for delightful entertainment. In particular, Private’s character shines, first as a fluffy, adorable baby, and then as the under-appreciated member of the team who just wants some respect. This coming-of-age element gives the film its heart. Perhaps it would have been better to centre the plot around this, instead of incorporating all the extra, overused elements that we’ve seen in kids films before – much of what is included seems unnecessary.
The film jumps from New York to Venice, to Dublin, to Shanghai, and back to New York again, without anything but the typical location stereotypes to show for it. It’s almost as if directors Simon J. Smith and Eric Darnell were afraid the plot would be too boring without the characters being constantly on the move. However, it is in fact when the characters remain in one place long enough for the audience to understand what they’re actually doing there that they are most interesting. There is no need to complicate things, especially when the Penguins’ simple role in the other Madagascar films was what worked for them.
Not all of the jokes are spot on. Of course, as a kid’s film, there is the unnecessary toilet-humour, and some of the pauses for comedic effect last far too long. However, there are also moments of brilliance, namely when Dave orders his henchmen around and inadvertently name-drops celebrities. “Nicholas! Cage them!” “Hugh! Jack! Man your stations!” Benedict Cumberbatch is also hilarious in his role, and definitely gets some of the best lines.
Considering Madagascar is one of Dreamworks’ most successful franchises, this film should have had more thought put into it. That said, it’s certainly better than other spin-off films like Puss in Boots. If it were a stand alone film featuring never-before-seen characters, then it may not have been as good. However, the Penguins are some of Madagascar’s best characters, and as a result, they carry this film a step above other kid’s films.
Penguins of Madagascar (2014), directed by Simon J. Smith and Eric Darnell, is released in the UK by 20th Century Fox, Certificate U.