“Penguins of Madagascar” is a recent spin-off film of the “Madagascar” film series, starring the penguin foursome that became so popular in the originals. It stars the voices of Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, and Christopher Knights as Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private respectively, and follows their spy-like mission to stop an evil octopus named Dave (John Malkovich). The film definitely encapsulates the personality of the penguins, and the humorous puns never end, making this spin-off pleasing and nearly worthy of being able to stand apart from the series it originated from.
When the penguins are on a mission to obtain the delicious snack of Cheezy Dibbles, they get captured by an evil slimy Octopus—Dave—who is bent on revenge. Always being forgotten in zoos and aquariums around the world due to the public liking the cuter, more appealing penguins in such zoos and aquariums, Dave is determined to exact his revenge on the wingless birds. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private escape Dave’s lair and meet up with the members of the “North Wind,” an undercover group who helps animals in need. The “North Wind” consists of a lead wolf whose name is Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), a seal named Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), a husky polar bear named Corporal (Peter Stormare), and a snowy owl named Eva (Annet Mahendru). The penguins and the “North Wind” don’t initially get along or trust the abilities of each other, so each group separately tries to track down Dave as penguins in zoos and aquariums around the world begin to go missing.
The inclusion of several new characters was something that a spin-off like this needed. The “North Wind” group was a great addition and added a bit more spunk and complication to the plot, but it wasn’t done nearly enough. While Short Fuse and Corporal had some great personalities, they weren’t featured sufficiently, and Eva basically disappeared into obscurity. Classified has some promise, but doesn’t live up to it entirely in this film. He’s a character worth exploring if a sequel is to be made.
The main chunk of this film is focused on the penguins, and rightfully so. The foursome’s interaction with one another and the leader Skipper’s quips make for an amusing dynamic. When Private begins to feel unappreciated and useless to the group being as though he is seen as the cute one, we start to see some more character development than one would expect to see. We’re given that character arc that a film like this needs, culminating in a lesson that DreamWorks has always been so good at showcasing in their repertoire of animated flicks.
The only problem with this film was that it perhaps isn’t as moving as it could have been. We care only about the outcome because of the entertainment level the main cast of penguins bring, and not because there’s an actual story we’re fond of. There’s a lot of silliness, which isn’t a bad thing, but when things get serious (which they seldom do), it doesn’t seem natural or fitting.
Overall, this is a kid’s film and it manages to bring the hijinks and humor it needs to be enjoyable. It also plays to the adult’s mind with the minor nuances of puns on celebrity names. There are a lot of those, and it’s fun to see the wit in Dave’s delivery of them. The voice acting was also great, with John Malkovich being a great villain in Dave, and Benedict Cumberbatch giving Classified some life. But at the core of this film were the penguins, and they all do a great job of filling the screen with their mischief. What they lacked, however, was the heart needed to surge this film forward into the ranks of greatness. We missed out on that camaraderie and tender togetherness that this band of penguins could and should have brought. So, in the end, we’re laughing, but not really caring that much.
Final grade? B-