UK Release Date: 5th December 2014
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Eric Darnell, Simon J Smith
Writer: John Aboud, Michael Colton, Brandon Sawyer
Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, Christopher Knights, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch
Synopsis: A team of wise-cracking penguins must battle an evil octopus in order to save their species.
Everyone pretty much agrees that the 2005 animated film Madagascar was pretty much stolen by four witty penguins. Several major sequels and a spin-off series followed, but now the foursome get their own big screen outing with the slightly disappointing Penguins of Madagascar.
When they break into Fort Knox one night, Skipper’s (Tom McGrath) team of penguins are kidnapped by octopus Dave (John Malkovich), who claims that cute penguins have consistently forced him out of zoos. The penguins soon enlist the help of secret animal unit North Wind, led by an intelligent wolf (Benedict Cumberbatch), in order to foil Dave’s plots.
In its opening act, Penguins of Madagascar sets itself up as the kind of inventive animation the characters deserve. The gags come thick and fast, with tonnes of silly wordplay and sight gags for the kids and plenty for the grown-ups as well. There’s even a brilliant cameo from Werner Herzog in the first scene that is a nice little nod to the ubiquity of the penguin in nature documentaries.
| "You don’t have a family… and we’re all gonna die."
However, it’s as the film moves into its middle section that it very suddenly runs out of momentum. The jokes become less funny, with Penguins of Madagascar flogging several running gags to death. In fact, the film loses all sense of invention and falls into the traditional trappings of the family animation.
By the time the all-action finale gets going, the film has entirely run out of steam and feels hopelessly generic. The finale, itself, is more or less identical to that of the far superior Despicable Me 2. It seems that, in promoting the penguins from sideshow to lead performers, the filmmakers have forgotten everything that made them so popular in the first place.
The film does benefit from a number of terrific voice performances. The men behind the penguins are as excellent as always, but they are bolstered by a terrifically evil Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch bringing his unique British lilt to by-the-book lupine agent Classified.
| "Look at them, tumbling onto their chubby bum bums.”
For a film that promised so much, Penguins of Madagascar fails to deliver on is promises. Every nice joke or stylistic flourish is counteracted by the dull nature if the third act, which never really manages to be as exciting as it should be. The penguins really shone in the midst of an ensemble, but they don’t seem to be capable of making a film work on their own.
Hopefully, the Minions will fare better next year.
Pop or Poop?
As studios continue to milk their blockbuster animated properties for every last drop of cash, Penguins of Madagascar is one of the most disappointing franchise spin-offs.
A solid voice cast and some smart writing can’t save a bland plot and a film that just runs out of steam and ideas far too early.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.