The Madagascar series is one of those rare series of films that gets better and better with each one. The first is pretty mediocre, the second is alright and the third is pure genius. Unfortunately, the spin-off film centred around the best characters, the penguins, is a step back. It’s not a huge step back, but Dreamworks would probably have been better off making a fourth Madagascar film.
The film gives a very quick rundown of their backstory, and then picks up where Madagascar 3 left off, with them shooting themselves out of the circus in an attempt to escape the “Da da da da da da afro circus” song. They break into Fort Knox and are promptly kidnapped by a vending machine with tentacles, which turns out to be Dave the Octopus who is hell bent on getting revenge on all cute penguins who stole the show from him in various zoos by turning them into monsters. Dave looks oddly like Will Ferrell, but is voiced by John Malkovitch. The rest of the talent budget went on Benedict Cumberbatch who voices the dog/wolf head of North Wind, an agency which protects animals who can’t help themselves, ie. cute penguins.
The penguins have always been the best characters in Madagascar, but a whole film to themselves becomes a bit much and they start to wear thin. They’re great as the sort of subplot in the Madagascar films and it’s completely understandable for Dreamworks to think they should have their own film, but they haven’t been developed enough for it. Private is the one who they’ve tried to develop as he tries to prove his use to the quartet, but the story lacks something and loses out to action montages and growls from Cumberbatch. They work really well as enablers and in plot drives but they just don’t have enough going on for them to be the main event.
There are some great chases, particularly one in Venice which is one of the funniest parts of the film, and Dave is creepy, gross and amusing all at the same time. A running joke for his henchmen involves the names of other actors, such as “Drew, Barry, more power!” etc and there’s an excellent technology related moment most children and parents will relate to. Indeed, the 12 year old I took with me said “that happens all the time with my parents”.
Overall, Penguins Of Madagascar isn’t a bad addition to the Madagascar franchise, but it’s lacking something the other films, the third especially, has. The penguins are great characters, and are joined by another quartet of pretty decent characters, and it is a fun film, but they’re better left as a subplot whilst Alex and co wreak havoc across the world.
Full disclosure: the 12 year old who came with me thought it was great.
Penguins Of Madagascar hit cinemas 5th December 2014.
Directors: Eric Darnell, Simon J. Smith
Stars: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon
Runtime: 92 mins