I didn’t expect a lot from the Penguins of Madagascar. I’d never been a huge fan of the original Madagascar films, finding the jokes to be a bit simple, the stories repetitive and the characters a bit dull. That being said, I always vaguely remember the Penguins being one of the highlights.
I was absolutely right. The Penguins fit their own movie really well and in a surprisingly clever way. This isn’t a kiddie movie, with cuddly, obvious jokes that appeal to the lowest common denominator. Instead it’s a movie with a lot of great one-liners, some very good characters and some genuinely, laugh-out-loud moments.
For the first half at least. The Penguins are very good characters. The four have very distinct personalities and all offer a great comedy foible with at least one decent pay-off. Skipper has a great, gung-ho attitude and the perfect voice to match it. Kowalski’s “matter-of-fact” statements are always funny and the way Rico eats anything offers its own share of decent gags. The stand-out to some extent is Private, who is both the protagonist of the story and gets some of the best moments of the film.
It isn’t just the main characters though. The support is great, with North Wind being both brilliant and inept in equal measure. Benedict Cumberbatch demonstrates that he is clearly a good laugh, as he throws himself into the role with full energy and effort. John Malkovich, as the perfectly named villain Dave, is as reliable as always and you can tell is having good fun.
In fact, the main issue with the movie is the need for a key plot at all. The second half of the film needs to deliver some sort of direction and plot and the gags begin to dry-up to make way for a story. I’d never recommend that a movie doesn’t have a story but the aimless, scatter-gun approach of the first half was much more successful than the second half’s more structured format. That isn’t to say it isn’t funny but it definitely becomes much more average and much more what you’d expect from the people behind Madagascar.
Story issues aside, there is a very good movie hidden underneath and one with some good, clever jokes. From Werner Herzog’s cameo at the beginning to some great film reference and call-backs throughout. People expecting a silly kids film should be pleasantly surprised.
Overall, Penguins of Madagascar is a funny animated movie that should surprise a lot of people. It has mature jokes, great characters and surprisingly good performances from the support they have brought in. The manic start is when the movie is at its best as a more structured story seems to let it down but nevertheless, this is a film that is worth a look.
Rating – 3
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)