Written by Husam Jayyusi
All Hail the Tuxedoes
What to Expect
There is something inherently pleasing about penguins; our tuxedo-clad flappers of the animal kingdom. I can’t seem to put my hand on it. They have the ability to turn adult and child alike into helpless bundles of joy admiring their ‘cuteness’. They also have the ability to make a 28-year-old endure 90 minutes in a theatre crammed with 150 screaming children without suffering a nervous breakdown, in 3D.
The Penguins stole the three main entries into the Madagascar series. It’s that simple, and it was no easy task especially when you are surrounded with voice talent that included Ben Stiller (Meet The Parents) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat). So viewers will undoubtedly be charmed and entertained by our flipper clad friends in their own spin off.
Sequels and prequels in the animated film genre are commonplace, often green lit before a single audience member has stepped into the auditorium. Films that are often cast into the cinematic hell known as straight to DVD (Disney’s Return Of Jaffar is an example), but some others instead get upgraded into cinematic releases, and in this instance, thank god for that.
What’s it About?
Penguins of Madagascar finds our flightless protagonists Skipper (Tom McGrath, co-creator of the Madagascar characters), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and the cutest of the bunch Private (Christopher Knights) caught up in an international plot to mutate penguins from all over the world so they become hideously disfigured and unloved by humans. The plot is hatched by Dr. Octavius Brine (Brilliantly voiced by John Malkovich), a once-famous octopus named Dave, extremely upset for being sidelined by the penguins in zoo-goers’ hearts.
A covert group known as The North Wind aids the penguins on their journey. The group is led by Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), an egotistical power loving wolf, Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), a small seal whose specialty is explosives; Eva (Annet Mahendru), an intelligence analyst owl; and Corporal (Peter Stormare), a polar bear with a huge heart.
Their motto? “Nobody breaks the wind.”
If you laughed at that then you’re going to have a blast.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
The brilliance of Penguins is the dialogue, charm and insider jokes that the majority (if not all) of a child audience will not understand, thus helping it cater to a mature audience as well. It’s quite an odd experience when children are laughing at the simplicity of slapstick comedy, while you’re laughing at two characters named Drew and Barry being told to do more (think about it for a minute).
It pokes fun at its own spinoff status right from the start with a reference to the catchy yet incredibly annoying song I Like to Move It. The movie even pays tongue-in-cheek homage to the tons of documentary films that chronicle the lives of the cuddly penguins (March of the Penguins) with a documentary sequence voiced over by visionary director Werner Herzog.
At points towards the film’s finale it begins to feel robotic and repetitive, but that does not discount the significant work made in the animation department. This is a stunningly beautiful film with little touches that really encourage you to tip your hat at everyone involved. I’m not an advocate of the 3D revolution, but I was so taken in by the details of the film’s habitat that after a while it didn’t bother me profusely.
The main overpowering negative that I would assign to Penguins is that directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith tried to do too much. It’s like landing on a great thing and overusing it until it becomes unbearable. That doesn’t happen here, but it gets mighty close. By the film’s epic finale, too much has been jam packed in, there is an excess of non-stop action sequences, little breathing room between jokes and what initially may have been an adorable running joke, gets older and older with every repetitive piece of dialogue.
Still, with its ample running time and the intelligent dialogue and set pieces, that shortcoming should not deter audiences. The filmmakers clearly thought about this, rather than creating an express film purely for marketing and sales.. The script is so accommodating to a large demographic, and when an animated film looks this stunning, it’s hard to fault it.
To Perform or Not to Perform
As with the Madagascar films, excellent voice talent has come out to play, with the piéce de résistance, of course, being John Malkovich’s work as the chief villain. The addition of Benedict Cumberbatch adds a welcomed hint of classy humor to the proceedings. The voice cast for the penguins is as likeable as it was in the previous outings while reliable actors such as Peter Stormare roundup the cast.
The delivery of the script and the comedic timing is top notch and help in evolving the film’s humor rather than falling into the risk of being too monotonous.
Absolutely. Penguins is a very clever spinoff. From the opening shot right up to the thrilling finale, audiences will be treated to nonstop action sequences, intelligently humorous dialogue and a lot of energy. This one’s a true filmgoing experience for the entire family, and it doesn’t hurt that them penguins are just so damn cute.
Star Rating: 3 / 5