Following the success of their Nickelodeon TV show, itself a spinoff of the hugely popular Madagascar film series, the much-loved penguins – Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private – have landed a big screen adventure all of their own.
While many spinoffs suffer when wrenched away from their parent movies, because entertaining minor characters aren’t always more enjoyable in larger doses, Penguins of Madagascar works well without its regular Central Park Zoo cohorts.
What sets out as a rather pointless origin story that gently mocks David Attenborough documentaries swiftly morphs into a frenetic spy caper that boasts a surprising array of inventive action sequences and a relentless gag-machine that’s set to pulverize.
The penguins find themselves wrapped up with the ‘North Wind’, an elite task force of undercover spies led by Benedict Cumberbatch’s pompous gray wolf, and together they form a fraught partnership to try and thwart the world-domination plan of a maniacal octopus called Dave (John Malkovich).
Granted, the plot is hardly original, essentially boiling down to a smattering of silly set pieces while the characters learn kid-friendly lessons. But the story’s lack of invention is easily offset by the rampant silliness of a movie that races between action scenes with the manic energy of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Gags are never in short supply with gross humour, slapstick pratfalls, and cheeky wordplay being fired out at such a rapid regularity there’ll almost certainly be something to entertain the whole family.
Though the ‘North Wind’ crew could be developed beyond their thin comic caricatures, the vocal performances are pleasingly energetic, especially John Malkovich who is deliciously camp as Dave, cackling his way through every scene as though he’s auditioning for panto season. Cumberbatch is also impressive in a surprisingly minor role, even if he does still pronounce it “penwings”.
The only downside to the delirious pacing is that it becomes pretty exhausting to watch over 90 minutes, co-directors Eric Darnell and Simon J Smith overplaying their hand to such a degree that the climax comes as a relief rather than a satisfying payoff.
But mostly Penguins of Madagascar is a lot of fun with committed performances and some genuinely heartfelt moments that make it a worthy addition to the Madagascar family.
Running time: 92 mins; Genre: Adventure/Comedy; Released: 5 December 2014;
Directors: Simon J Smith, Eric Darnell; Screenwriters: Michael Colton, John Aboud;
Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich
Click here to watch the Penguins of Madagascar trailer