- Movie Rating -

Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

| November 30, 2014

It takes a heart of stone to hate a movie as sweet and good-hearted as Penguins of Madagascar although, lord knows, many critics have tried. Their ire is not completely unreasonable, however, the world wasn’t exactly crying out for a feature-length movie featuring the adventures of those cute penguins that provided comic relief around the edges of the Madagascar trilogy. What’s clear is that they’re funny in small doses, as a quartet of arctic foul who organize themselves like a team of super-spies, but are unaware that their crackpot schemes succeed only by way of blind good fortune.

There probably isn’t much in The Penguin’s first animated feature that wasn’t already done in the Madagascar movies or on their Nickelodeon TV series. If you’ve seen The Penguins in either form you already know what you’re getting here. The movie is a little of this and a little of that, opening with their origin, as penguin babies who defy the established natural order of their flock and go off on their own. The origin shows how they came together, and how they came to adopt their young recruit named Private after he hatches from his egg into a fuzzy ball of cuteness. The movie’s major burst of creativity is in the revelation that they are part of a documentary being narrated by legendary documentarian Werner Hertzog – that’s brilliant!

Unfortunately the movie doesn’t stay on that course. The Herzog contribution is only a throw away gag. The major plot takes place in the present day and involves a somewhat dull revenge story involving an octopus named Dave (voiced by John Malkovich) and his plan to exact revenge on the quartet for stealing his spotlight back when they shared a tank at the same zoo many years ago. He wants to use a mutagen ray to turn the penguins into monsters. In other words, there’s nothing in this plot that Despicable Me didn’t do first.

I wish the movie had stayed with the Hertzog narration – maybe turning the movie into a parody of a National Geographic documentary. That could have turned this into a great comedy, or at least something we haven’t seen before. Hardly anything in this plot feels new.

The personalities of The Penguins aren’t exactly deep, but they are easier to define than, say, The Ninja Turtles. Skipper is the motor-mouthed leader (voiced by Tom McGrath); Kowalski is the second-in-command (voiced by Chris Miller); Rico is the loose cannon (voiced by Conrad Vernon) who is always eating and regurgitating needed items. And there’s the rookie named Private (voiced by Christopher Knights). They take some getting used to, but eventually you find them easy to tell apart.

The story is familiar, and it becomes clear that the penguins at feature length were probably best as supporting players. They’re fun but a little goes a long way. And yet, with those objections aside, I am recommending this movie for the smaller detailed gags around the movie’s edges – those are really funny. It succeeds in dozen or so small moments as when Dave sends a video message to our heroes about his evil plan and has to get help from his minions to turn off the monitor. That’s funny. So too, is a running gag involving Skipper’s inability to remember Dave’s name – a gag that even carries over into the closing credits. So yeah, there are the standard pop culture references and snarky jokes, but they work so well, and the movie offers them up with such wonderful energy that you really don’t mind so much. Will kids like it? Absolutely. Is it perfect? No. It’s a fun comedy that will entertaining you for 90 minutes and won’t leave you thinking much about it when it’s over.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.