I’ve always been a fan of the Madagascar series. Sure, it’s a little goofier and more shallow than some of it’s more evolved counterparts, but there has always been a wonderful manic energy to it that goes above and beyond the realm of lazy silliness, into the one of making that very silliness an art in an of itself. At the center of the series’ creativity have always been the Penguins. However while this film is certainly a welcome prospect, there is certainly a chance that these hyperactive secret agent birds could wear thin at feature length, thus is the plight of the spin off…
The story starts out with Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) as babies, rescuing a falling egg that ends up being private (Christopher Knights). The four end up forming a brotherhood bent on adventure, and that brings us to the end of Madagascar 3, where they decide to strike out on their own, to break into Fort Knox. While there, they come across an evil Octopus named Dave (John Malkovich) with a plan to turn all penguins into monsters, and a mysterious spy organization called the North Wind who wants to stop him, lead by a stern wolf who’s name is Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch).
As you probably gathered from that, this film deals in sheer lunacy, with no intentions of being anything other than a fun romp for kids. However, instead of just leaning on that approach and not trying at all, Directors Eric Darnell and Simon J Smith soak the entire universe in that energy, creating something that feels reminiscent of the early Looney Tunes shorts in terms of sheer goofy energy.
The rhythm of the humor here is relentless. Every possible spy and action trope is exaggerated and played upon here. The campy, often pun filled dialogue is delivered with great gusto by all of the voice actors. McGrath, Miller, Vernon, and Knights are veterans at this point, and you can feel just how much fun they’re having as the penguins banter back and forth, but the highlight here is Cumberbatch. Despite his consistent mispronouncing of the word ‘penguins’ (pen-wings…really dude?), his deep and expressive voice works wonders to capture the pompous, and arrogant Classified, who may not be as collected as he’d like people to think.
By the time we got the third Madagascar film, it became clear that these animators have a penchant for off the wall action, and here, they go hog wild. Every single chase or fight here defies any law of physics, logic, or basically anything that could roadblock the train. They’re eight to ten minute flows of invention and creativity, that use every facet of the environment for humor, one of the best examples being a daring sky dive the Penguins try midway through the film. The camera tracks them for extended long takes as they sail hough the air, jump from plane to plane, and give out food in the aisles, showing off the sheer potential for action in animation.
In fact, the only point where the film’s pace feels a little broken is when the attempt emotional arc involving Private’s importance to the group comes into play. It’s not bad, but in the context of the tone and pace of the film, it feels a bit forced just so they could have something to calm the film down with. Fortunately, not a great deal of time is spent on it, and it all results, as everything does in this, a joke.
Penguins of Madagascar is like playing inside the mind of a nine year old. Everything is in motion, acting as fuel to keep that small but creative attention span going. As such, it’s a great deal of fun, and while not as clever as something like ‘The Lego Movie’, very funny. Every so often, things do wear a little thin, or the forced dramatic arc will rear it’s head, but if you’re a fan of these characters, it’s a worthwhile adventure.