Penguins of Madagascar is a movie released in 2014 with a budget of $110 million. It is the sequel to the 2011 film “The Penguins of Madagascar,” which was also directed by Tom McGrath and featured the voice talents of Chris Miller, Conrad Ricamora, and David Tennant.
Penguins of Madagascar: A Review (2014)
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The Madagascar film Penguins of Madagascar is the franchise’s last installment. Following in the footsteps of Puss in Boots, the 2014 release concentrates on the series’ comic sidekicks, examining their backstories and sending them on their own adventure. The penguins also had a Nickelodeon TV show with a same title that aired from 2008 to 2015 and recast several of the major characters. Despite my fondness for the Madagascar films, I never watched Penguins of Madagascar when it was first released or subsequently. I had no idea there was a movie since I had confused it with the TV program. I only watched DreamWorks sequels to movies I like in the early-mid 2010s, such as the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon sequels. That wasn’t a deliberate choice; films like Mr. Peabody and Sherman and Turbo just didn’t hold my interest. While I like the original Madagascar films, these spin-offs are seldom as amusing or delightful as the originals. Let’s take a closer look.
Penguins of Madagascar introduces us to our titular foursome as a group of strong-willed women who like defying nature and confronting danger head-on. Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, and Conrad Vernon) save an egg from imminent death, and when it hatches, they meet and adopt Private (Christopher Knights). As the years pass, Private becomes the team’s cute member, posing a dilemma. Skipper is the commander and the brains behind the operation, Rico is a Swiss army knife, and Kowalski is the brains behind the operation. Private, who is referred to as the secretary/mascot in the film, feels like the least respected member of their new family. The penguins meet Dr. Octavius Brine (John Malkovich) by chance and uncover a sinister plan that threatens the whole penguin species. They discover friends in the North Wind, a non-profit devoted to assisting animals in distress. Skipper and North Wind commander “Classified” (Benedict Cumberbatch) may be able to stop Brine before it’s too late if they can keep their egos in check.
Penguins of Madagascar’s animation is precisely what you’d expect. The character designs are quite stylised, and the textures are adequate but not exceptional. The results are similar to those seen in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. My only criticism is Private’s appearance after the nasty ray has drained his attractiveness (yes, you read that right). Coloring his feathers pink and giving him horns is their notion of making him into a horrible monster. This isn’t very appealing, but I’m not certain it qualifies someone as a monster. Lorne Balfe’s original music is adequate, but it pales in comparison to Hans Zimmer’s work on the series. I’m sure they couldn’t afford such a big-name composer for a film that didn’t include any of the series’ major actors and came out after the series’ peak. The voice acting is arguably Penguins of Madagascar’s most valuable asset. In addition to the original voices of the penguins, the film’s antagonist is played by John Malkovich, while Skipper’s adversary is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Werner Herzog makes a hilarious appearance as a documentary filmmaker photographing penguins in Antarctica (does it count as a cameo if the movie is animated?) Short Fuse, North Wind’s seal demolitions specialist, is also appearing as Ken Jeong. Mort’s voice is once again provided by Andy Richter. Cumberbatch completely vanishes in his part as “Classified” and gives a performance that belies the character’s paper thinness. Similarly, Malkovich is terrific and plays a villain who might have easily been too stupid and boring.
In fact, I believe Brine/Dave is my favorite Penguins of Madagascar character. I thought it was a smart choice to tell his sad history honestly, and I felt horrible for him as everything unfolded. He looked a little like Goob from Meet the Robinsons. After what occurred to him, it’s understandable for Dave to feel this way, but his response is problematic. Rather of moving on and attempting to achieve happiness, he obsesses over his past and the people he holds responsible. Because Penguins of Madagascar is a comedy, this doesn’t really matter. Dave’s final retribution is similar to Stinky Pete being handed to a crayon-scribbling young girl in Toy Story 2. This is all well and good, but I wasn’t expecting any significant character arcs or a feel-good message from Penguins of Madagascar. That might have been a better film, but it wasn’t the one they were attempting to create. So, how does Penguins of Madagascar stand up to scrutiny as a slapstick comedy? This isn’t ideal. Even Dave’s biggest flaw comes in the shape of the authors’ godawful jokes on Malkovich. When Dave interacts with one of his minions, they are given a celebrity’s first name, followed by a play on that person’s last name. This isn’t hilarious at first, and it becomes old quickly. The revelation that Dr. Brine is an anthropomorphic, talking octopus is acceptable. However, I believe they could have done more to get a larger chuckle out of this.
Private’s battle with his position on the squad is an intriguing twist on the narrative that I didn’t anticipate based on the mainstream Madagascar flicks. Private was usually depicted as a stupid penguin who didn’t know what he was doing. That fits in well with his motive in Penguins of Madagascar, and I enjoy the notion that he feels like the group’s least appreciated and valuable member. I have a handful of issues with how this is handled in the film, and they’re major ones. Private makes several efforts to imitate Rico and Kowalski’s abilities throughout the film. Rico has been proven to successfully swallow and vomit a paper clip to get himself out of jail on many occasions. Private also attempts to alert Skipper about the issue, as does Kowalski. It wouldn’t upset me as much if they were simply attempts at imitation, but he excels at both, which seems to contradict what the film is attempting to convey. Private must be seen as a vital and important addition to the squad by the audience (and Skipper). Why should you teach him how to satisfy desires that he already has? Rico and Kowalski’s skills are implicitly called into doubt as a result of this.
Private’s unique ability later turns out to be attractiveness. You’re joking, right? That was his issue at the start of the movie: his worth was determined by his looks. Because of this, the others treat him like a baby. Private demonstrates initiative in devising a plan to save his buddies and courage in carrying it out. This should have been the emphasis, but instead it’s some corny line about how Private is the group’s heart since he’s cute. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare, but towards the end, it’s brutally obvious that the studio forced this film on us for commercial reasons. The penguins aren’t the ones that made people fall in love with Madagascar. They’re uninteresting, and they’re not even amusing on their own. The North Wind doesn’t contribute much to the film, and although I initially enjoyed Dave, his humor and conclusion left a lot to be desired.
Penguins of Madagascar is a waste of time in general. A surprisingly good voice cast and competent animation aren’t enough to rescue such a heinous picture. The slapstick comedy and quips aren’t even humorous enough to make up for the lack of character development. Furthermore, rather than demonstrating why Private is an important part of the team, the video reaffirms his status quo. The whole idea was that privacy is both essential and valued. Penguins of Madagascar has a few redeeming aspects, and I won’t say I’m sorry I saw it at all. However, it’s a bit of a snub, and Europe’s Most Wanted was a far better way to end the series.
Plot – 4
Acting – 9 points
4 for direction/editing
6 – Music/Sound
4 – Comedy
Penguins of Madagascar is a waste of time in general. A surprisingly good voice cast and competent animation aren’t enough to rescue such a heinous picture. The slapstick comedy and quips aren’t even humorous enough to make up for the lack of character development.
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