It seems to be a popular trend these days for animated movies to not only get a host of sequels, but also spinoffs starring their comedic sidekicks. Minions found wild success after branching off from Despicable Me, and even Pixar got into the game my focusing Cars 2 on sidekick Mater (producing Pixar’s sole stinker in the process). Dreamworks has been no stranger to this trend, creating the likes of 2011’s Puss in Boots, which spun off from Shrek. In 2014, Dreamworks released The Penguins of Madagascar which, as its name implies, takes the quartet of penguin characters from the Madagascar series and makes them the stars. The Madagascar series has always been more successful than good, so a spinoff from the series after three primary installments probably doesn’t bode well. You’d be justified in going into The Penguins of Madagascar with skepticism. It simply isn’t very good.
The story follows the four penguins Skipper, Private, Rico and Kowalski. On Private’s tenth birthday, the rest of the penguins decide to sneak into Fort Knox. Not to steal gold, but the discontinued cheesy snack that resides solely in the back room vending machine. But they end up kidnapped by an octopus named Dave, who frequently disguises as a human scientist.
It turns out that Dave is jealous of penguins for being cute. As an octopus, he was always outshined by the penguins of whatever zoo or aquarium he found himself in. These four penguins just so happen to be the first batch who unintentionally victimized him. So Dave plans on kidnapping all the penguins from every zoo he inhabited, and use a serum he created to turn them into hideous monsters so people will resent them. It’s up to the four penguins, along with a band of arctic animals called the North Wind to put a stop to Dave’s plot.
Dave is voiced by John Malkovich, and is probably the highlight of the movie because of it. The character’s motivation is a humorous twist on the tragic villain backstory, and it’s clear that John Malkovich had a lot of fun with the character. Tom McGrath, Christopher Knights and Chris Miller return as the voices of Skipper, Private and Kowalski, while Rico’s voice mainly consists of grunts. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the wolf leader of the North Wind, humorously named Classified.
While the voice work is fun and the animation lively, what ultimately makes Penguins of Madagascar forgettable is its utter disinterest in slowing down. You might not expect a movie titled The Penguins of Madagascar to not give two cents about character development, but it’s actually surprising just how non-existent the character development is in the movie. Aside from Dave, none of the characters seem to have any real motive or reason for doing anything, and are just thrown into every slapstick situation on the fly. The personalities are cardboard and the characters only seem to exist to deliver jokes.
The story, or whatever there is of one, is constantly moving way too fast. It never gives the audience any breathing room, and it ends up feeling exhausting rather quickly. Even by the standards of the Madagascar series, it feels cartoonish.
Young children might have a fun time with The Penguins of Madagascar due to the animal characters and fun animation, and there are even some fun jokes here and there (one of the more original running gags involves Dave barking a command at his henchmen, which inadvertently name drops a celebrity. “Nicholas! Cage them!” for example).
When all is said and done though, The Penguins of Madagascar is lacking in the areas that count for keeping the interest of older audiences. The story is weak, the pace is too fast, and there’s nothing to the characters. The nice animation and funny moments just can’t keep up.