This time, the penguins from the beloved Madagascar franchise are out on their own, and have to stop an evil villain bent on revenge against all penguin-kind. The trouble is that the penguins may have more help than they need, and certainly more than they want.
AS is often the case with big, successful franchises, Madagascar is a series of films that lives and dies with its supporting cast. Thankfully the makers of the franchise have realised this, and sent Kowalski (Chris Miller), Skipper (Tom McGrath), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) off on an adventure of their own. The gang find themselves at the heart of a conspiracy that forces them to team up with the secret organisation The North Wind, to take down the evil Dr Octavius Brine.
The voice cast are on fantastic form in Penguins of Madagascar, and they inject the heart and much of the comedy into the film. As well as the long standing voices of the four penguins, Benedict Cumberbatch – who still can’t pronounce ‘penguin’… Aww – Ken Jeong, John Malkovich, Annet Mahendru and Peter Stormare join the fun. Malkovich brings the fantastically evil Dr Octavius Brine to life, and obviously has a great time bringing the evil, but the standout role has to be Werner Herzog in an inspired cameo as a documentary filmmaker. Not only is Herzog screamingly funny, but he manages to take the mick out of himself, and send up the documentary genre as a whole, all in the space of one short scene. Well done, sir.
Many times, when a film is written by several screenwriters, the result is a mess, but John Aboud, Michael Colton, Eric Darnell and Brandon Sawyer have worked together to create a cohesive story that sends up the spy thriller, brings the laughs and is in keeping with our previous encounters with the penguins. Running gags abound here – including a spectacular one concerning actor’s names (Nicholas! Cage them!) – as well as sight gags and silliness. Irish fans of the franchise will delight in the Dublin gag, but the film also has a sweet and warm message of acceptance and family.
Directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith direct their cast, and the action, to cinematic brilliance, while managing to strike a balance between sight gags and dialogue, and allowing each character a moment of brilliance. No mean feat. As well as this, they keep the film rattling along at a great pace – which often leads to madcap antics on screen, and jokes landing several seconds after they have been realised – but this is all part of the fun. As always with the Madagascar films, the animals and scenery may not be animated as photo realistic, but they are warm and have a style all of their own.
In all, Penguins of Madagascar was a brilliant move from filmmakers, since the penguins as beloved from the franchise. In bringing supporting characters to the fore, the film could well have fallen flat, but Penguins of Madagascar is consistently funny, action packed and has a whole lot of heart. Hear that!? That’s the sound of a new franchise forming, and if its half as good as this film, then I can’t wait.