Penguins of Madagascar (3 stars)

Penguins of Madagascar

Knockabout spin-off featuring the voices of John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch

Over their three Madagascar features to date, DreamWorks Animation have successfully established a menagerie of comic characters. The franchise's penguins have already struck out with their own short film and TV show, and they now get their own movie. A step down from the psychedelic wit of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, this solo outing at least offers up robust good humour.

Positioning itself initially as an origins story, Eric Darnell and Simon J Smith's film opens with Werner Herzog filming a documentary about the lives of penguins. When one of his crew forces nature’s hand by knocking the penguins off a cliff face, a slapstick series of events leads to Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) completing their team with freshly hatched recruit Private (Christopher Knights). Flash-forward and this now fully functioning espionage outfit head to Venice where they tangle with octopus/scientist Dr Octavius Brine (John Malkovich), who has plans for their extermination.  The penguins pin their hopes on an alliance with the interspecies North Wind group, led by officious wolf Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch).

North Wind brings a whole set of new characters, but despite voice talent in the form of Ken Jeong and Peter Stormare, they make little impression. The onus remains on the penguins to entertain, and their frantic knockabout style offers few opportunities for genuine pathos or drama. The result is a lighthearted, frenetic romp, with sophisticated gags like the Planet of the Apes joke in Madagascar, or the abstract circus ballet in Europe's Most Wanted notably absent. Instead, easy targets like Skype and Riverdance are tossed into the mix. Much like Shrek's Puss in Boots spin-off, Penguins of Madagascar passes the time pleasantly without expanding the franchise's universe in a particularly imaginative or challenging way.

General release from Fri 5 Dec.


The Penguins of Madagascar

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 1h 32min
  • U
  • Directed by: Eric Darnell, Simon J. Smith
  • Cast: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John DiMaggio, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru, Peter Stormare
  • UK release: 5 December 2014

The espionage-savvy penguins team up with an interspecies special forces group, to tangle with octopus/scientist Dr Octavius Brine (Malkovich). The knockabout style offers few chances for genuine drama and the result is a lighthearted, frenetic but rather unimaginative romp, a step down from the psychedelic wit of…