The Madagascar movie series has produced a steady stream of success for DreamWorks Animation, so it was easy to see why they would shoot for their first actual spin-off movie. It was also obvious why the Penguins of Madagascar were the characters they would use, since they not only were the most popular characters in the Madagascar movies, but also the best known thanks to their animated television series.
However, that is also where the problem lies when it comes to the Penguins of Madagascar movie. DreamWorks Animation wants parents to pay for a movie to take their family to for a franchise that has already released some made-for-TV movies free of charge. DreamWorks is just hoping that the popularity of the characters will be all it takes to bring in families.
So, what do they get? Well, they get the same thing they got when the Penguins appeared on television. The movie starts with the origin of the Penguins, as Skipper, Kowalski and Rico are little penguins marching on when they see an egg rolling by. When the other penguins say they won’t risk their lives to save it, the three penguins decide to break ranks and head out to save the egg, which ended up hatching and bringing Private into their lives.
Penguins of Madagascar then actually starts immediately following the events of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. Remember the dance scene at the end of that movie? This one starts during that scene with the Penguins wanting to get the hell out of dodge and using the circus cannon to aid their escape. This leads into an almost immediate confrontation with Dave (John Malkovich), an octopus who hates the penguins because their arrival at the New York zoo caused people to care about them and ignore Dave. After he was shipped from zoo to zoo, always out-staged by penguins, he decided to seek revenge and hated Skipper and company more than any others.
The plan is simple. Dave wants to kidnap every penguin from all the zoos he lived in and then use a giant ray to turn them into ugly monsters and release them upon the world, where the world will then hate penguins too. That is the basic plot and is not unlike the cartoons and television movies.
Here is where Penguins of Madagascar plays differently. First of all, a new group of heroes is introduced in the North Wind, which is led by a dog whose name is classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arctic seal called Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), an owl named Eva (Annet Mahendru) and a bear named Corporal (Peter Stormare). Basically, these animals are an animal rescue unit tasked with saving helpless animals. The tension rises when Classified declares that Penguins are helpless animals and that rubs Skipper the wrong way.
The second big part of Penguins of Madagascar involves Private. Throughout the movies and TV show, Skipper is the leader, Rico is the demolition expert and Kowalski is the brains of the unit. However, Private has never had a true purpose, other than being cute and cuddly. That is really driven home through the movie, and this is Private’s story, as he sets out to prove that he is an important part of the unti.
The humor is pretty funny in the movie, as expected from the Penguins of Madagascar, however some of it is really hit and miss. There are some really bad puns in the movie, and honestly, it goes overboard at times. Sometimes less is more, but in this case, the writers threw every pun in the book into the movie, and it makes Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 look normal in comparison. The best puns were when the movie made fun of actor’s names (Drew, Barry – More power; Hugh Jack Man the missiles). The puns in the chase through Venice is not as well done.
At the end of the day, Penguins of Madagascar is a great movie for kids. Adults will find enough humor in it to keep them happy as well, as there are some true laughs. However, this is a movie that is not different enough from what DreamWorks has provided on TV to really warrant a trip to the theater. It’s good, it’s just not original enough for a theatrical release.