PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR. Voices of Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch. Directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith. 92 minutes.Rated G (Some scary scenes).
Running wholeheartedly with its absurd brand of humour, this spinoff from the popular ‘Madagascar’ franchise is wacky fun. It may not be the most sophisticated or intelligent family entertainment, but it’s bright and energetic, and the voice cast are clearly having a ball.
Renowned director Werner Herzog’s unmistakeable voice narrates our introduction to the frozen tundra, where strings of adorable penguins follow each other blindly with documentary crews galore. Three young penguins stand apart, rejecting their species’ unquestioning nature. They are Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon), instantly familiar as the penguin contingent previously seen as supporting players in the ‘Madagascar’ trilogy’. When a lone egg rolls past, they set off to save it from some hungry leopard seals, and they are rewarded with the fourth member of their crew: Private (Christopher Knights).
Cut to ten years later, and the tech-savvy foursome are celebrating Private’s birthday with a quick break-and-enter of Fort Knox. Inside, they are mysteriously kidnapped by none other than Dave the Octopus (John Malkovich), who was once a star at their former home in Central Park Zoo, until the arrival of the new, loveable penguins saw him forgotten by his formerly adoring public. This madcap plotting is par for the course – the plot charges on through ridiculous situations and setups with abandon. Adult-focused humour is provided courtesy of Skipper’s combination of brassy confidence and questionable intelligence, as well as Dave’s affinity for accidental celebrity name puns. Young ones will likely enjoy Rico’s mute slapstick gags, as well as the inventive colour and design. It doesn’t have the same emotional depth of Disney or Pixar’s animated classics, but its focus is rarely turned to feelings; the film emphasises jokes, which fly past quickly with decent success.
The quartet escape with the help of North Wind, an elite taskforce of other polar creatures led by the wolf Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch). When Dave announce his revenge plan to wreak devastation on the penguin population of the world, Skipper and his crew compete with North Wind to be the first to save the day from his evil plot. With the arrival of North Wind, composer Lorne Balfe brings us a snazzy spy caper score, and the action picks up considerably. In the end, they will need to combine their expertise and courage to thwart their briny foe, and there are some (arguably tacked on) takeaway messages about being oneself in a team. Finally, Malkovich and Cumberbatch are fun additions to the relatively unknown voice cast of the penguins, though the foursome ultimately steal the show with their brilliant deadpan delivery.
By no means the best kids film of the year (or the Summer for that matter), ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ is nonetheless an enthusiastic and very likable animated offering for fans of the trilogy from which it sprung. Come for the lunacy, stay for the ensuing fun.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out January 1.
20th Century Fox.