Penguins of Madagascar is the kind of movie one would expect to come from the director of the first three Madagascar films (Eric Darnell) and a co-director who made Bee Movie; overlong, often annoying and occasionally funny. The film takes one of the best parts of the Madagascar movies – aka not the main characters – and stretches the titular characters out to feature length status.
For those unfamiliar with said penguins, they’re a mischievous foursome prone to fiendish, and sometimes not-so-fiendish, plots. They are led by Skipper (Tom McGrath), the overconfident figure that never frets in seemingly even the worst of situations, including falling from an airplane sans parachutes. He is joined by the genius of the group Kowalski (Chris Miller), the one who eats everything (Conrad Vernon) and the baby of the group Private (Christopher Knights). It is Private’s desire to prove his worth to the group, especially his father-figure Skipper. As many successful bits of mayhem as they have caused together, Skipper still views Private as the cute little fella he helped rescue back in his Antarctic days.
Private gets a chance to show what he’s made of when the birds are captured by your standard Dreamworks villain; the loud, annoying and did I mention loud baddie, this time out in the form of Dave the Octopus. Lacking the cuteness of our feathered friends, Dave ends up getting jettisoned from one zoo to the next. Years of such treatment has made the once lovable Dave bitter and out for vengeance in the form of a serum which transform all penguins into green, creepy looking beasties.
Penguins of Madagascar is mostly a chore. It peaks three minutes in with a gag 95% of audiences won’t even understand. That bit revolves a narrator discussing the rough, somewhat beautiful, lives of penguins via Werner Herzog, a man who has already made his own doc on the creatures. Herzog’s films tend to be light on pleasantries and heavy on the horrors of nature, making his presence amusingly alarming. That’s basically it in terms of originality or genuine imagination. The rest is hitting the same beats repeatedly, be it a gag playing on celebrity names that can be reworked into commands(“Nicolas, cage those birds”) or the pomposity of its various characters.
The penguins’ shtick is exaggerated out in this form, more fitting to a short cartoon show, which it just so happens to already be. At roughly 90 minutes, what is charming in its simplicity wears thin; worn out from the stereotypical Dreamworks machine of cynicism where the majority of characters are selfish and continuously blustering in presentation.
Penguins of Madagascar opens wide all across Seattle tomorrow.