Penguins of Madagascar offers perfect holiday hijinks for the penguin-lover in all of us
Super spy teams aren’t born – they’re hatched. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private are back in full throttle as furry agents of international espionage, and their antics are as funny as ever in DreamWorks’ ‘Penguins of Madagascar.’
Fewer things in life are more adorable than a cuddly, chubby penguin. Penguins have long been my favorite animal ever since my city’s zoo invested in a state-of-the-art penguin exhibit in which you can watch the graceful black and white birds playfully frolic and swim underneath your feet (looking through a glass floor) as they go from one side of their arctic backdrop to the other. Last year, a childhood wish finally came true for me – I finally had a behind-the-scenes, one-on-one personal penguin encounter at an aquarium in which I was given a half-hour with several penguins and actually got to pet some of them.
The cuteness of penguins and the amount of attention and special exhibits such as the aforementioned ones that are given them is very much the heart of the plot of DreamWorks Animation’s Penguins of Madagascar. That’s right – the hilarious penguins who pretty much stole the show for me in the previous Madagascar movies were finally given their own full-length feature. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private are back in full throttle as furry agents of international espionage, and their antics are as funny as ever. I especially enjoyed the beginning of the movie, which sets the background for how this lovable quartet first came to be by showing them as baby penguins who don’t want to continue aimlessly marching in formation across the frozen tundra, as an overzealous penguin documentary crew looks on.
It was apparent right from the start that Skipper was a natural-born leader, for he always possessed that certain necessary charisma and audacity to question nature and the status quo. It was equally apparent that Kowalski was meant to be the “brains” of the outfit, while Rico was clearly meant to be their demolition expert due to his unique ability to swallow random objects that could be of use as weapons later on. And just as clearly, much to his dismay, it was evident that Private was meant to be their mascot. For what Private seemingly lacks in brains, he more than makes up for with a noble heart, an unwavering sense of loyalty and his irresistible cuteness. (Seriously, I just want to squeeze him!)
Familial love is really what fuels the penguins on their adventurous pursuits. They operate as a cohesive unit because of how much they care for and look out for one another. When you mess with one penguin, you unleash the fury and unstoppable force of all four, as the movie’s villain – Dr. Octavius Brine – quickly finds out when he kidnaps Private. Dr. Brine, a.k.a. Dave the Octopus (voiced by the remarkable John Malkovich), has suffered a lifetime of misery and penguin envy, being forced from zoo to zoo to make room for more penguin exhibits because that’s really what the people want to see (guilty as charged!). Dave has spent years upon years formulating his ultimate plan of revenge, finally developing a secret weapon that will rid the world of penguins and their cuteness once and for all. Is there really a super villainous plot more dastardly than that?
Naturally, it’s up to the penguin quartet to thwart his plans with some much-needed help from some other arctic animals-turned-espionage experts known as The North Wind. The North Wind is led by Agent Classified, a wolf voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. One of the most adorable things about this movie is the fact that Cumberbatch has trouble pronouncing the word penguin in his sexy British accent. (It really shouldn’t be as funny as it is.) The group also consists of a clever snow owl named Eva (Annet Mahendru), a feisty explosives specialist seal named Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), and a protective polar bear named Corporal (Peter Stormare) who loves the penguins as much as humans do. The North Wind and the penguins must put their egos aside and learn to work together to stop the evil genius and his minions of brightly-colored, at-times hilarious cephalopods.
The plot was actually perfect if you’re a penguin-lover like me, and the voice actors are all superb. Malkovich portrays an excellent villain who you know is in the wrong but you can’t help but feel more than a little sorry for in his misguided attempt to become adored. I think it’s interesting that Skipper is voiced by Tom McGrath, who codirected the first three Madagascar films and also served as this one’s executive producer. Apparently, he meant to merely fill in until a “real actor” was picked for the part in the original Madagascar movie, but once everyone involved heard him as Skipper, it became obvious that there was no other Skipper for the part. McGrath is joined in the penguin brotherhood by Chris Miller as Kowalski, Christopher Knights as Private and Conrad Vernon as Rico.
Penguins of Madagascar is another wonderful holiday gem from DreamWorks that is meant to be enjoyed with your entire family. The antics are a kindred spirit to the cartoons of yesteryear, paying homage to the animated world of falling anvils, zany pratfalls, visual gags, witty one-liners and colorful characters that don’t take themselves too seriously. One of the funniest jokes is the repeated usage of celebrity name puns uttered by Dave, which include, “Nicolas, cage them!” and “Drew, Barry, more!” Your kids aren’t likely to pick up on all of those, but I’m sure they will make you chuckle in your seat. I know I did, anyway.
Penguins of Madagascar proves there’s so much more to penguins than just that cuddly exterior. At the very least, I kept giggling at their shared affinity for cheesy poofs despite the mess they make when you eat them. Overall, the movie moves along at a fast pace that actually left me wanting more after roughly 90 minutes. Maybe they’ll be given a sequel now?