Review: “Penguins of Madagascar”

An adorable band of globetrotting spy-penguins who encounter a group of Arctic secret agents lead by the guy who voiced Smaug as they ward of John Malkovich as an eccentric octopus. If I were a studio executive, I’d be curious too.

After making three mediocre “Madagascar” movies, Dreamworks Animation finally made a movie for the only characters in them that anyone could care about: four penguins living in a world of constant espionage and quick-worded banter.

The result is a fast-paced (mind numbingly so) child-friendly caper that wont move anyone to tears or make children smarter, but is filled with an abundance of humor and colorful characters to be a worthwhile distraction.

If you’ve seen the other “Madagascar” movies then you already know these little buggers. But I’m going to assume that anyone reading is oblivious so I can stretch out this review.

There’s Skipper, the leader and satire of an action movie commando; Kowalski, an analysis expert who’s expert at analyzing the obvious of any situation; Rico, the result of what I assume is penguin inbreeding who is the bird equivalent of Hermione’s never-ending bag and; Private, who’s adorable and British.

Mix those guys in with the North Wind, an elite team of actual super-spies consisting of a wolf, baby seal, owl and polar bear (Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru and Peter Stormare respectively) and a quirky, bizarre octopus (Malkovich) as the villain and there is never a dull character on-screen.

Which is great, because often the action is so rapid, silly and utterly elaborate that it’s a child’s version of an acid trip. Having sat through “Into the Void” even I was having trouble contemplating what I was seeing. When the penguins engage in a land/sea/air gondola chase with octopus henchman that results in fish being thrown like boomerangs it makes the phrase “Now, I’ve seen everything” seem useless.

There is some resemblance of emotion lingering somewhere in “Penguins” in the form of Private feeling like an outcast among the team. However, it only shows in the first and final act, being shoved down deep in the second act by loud noises and goofy antics.

But it’s a children’s movie. This isn’t “Saving Private Ryan”. As long as they deliver on the goods—action, colors, funny critters and at least some heart—then it can be of use.

Nothing is dumb or half-assed but nor is it endearing or memorable. Just simple, straightforward family viewing that will surely have the younger audience chit-chatting on the slides. Who knows, maybe they’ll be inspired to form their own spy agency. Just stop them if they also wanna move to Antarctica.

Grade: B-


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