On Justifying a Review of ‘Penguins of Madagascar’

What is the point of reviewing “Penguins of Madagascar?” I know this movie was not made with my particular sensibilities in mind. I could say its my job to appraise to “Penguins of Madagascar” and other such films but you know that already and it doesn’t really justify the point either; unless you’re as deeply concerned about my work obligations as I am.

So, why do I write about “Penguins of Madagascar?” Why don’t I write something and see if I arrive at a point. That could be fun, or funny or a complete waste of both our time.

Skipper, Rico, Kowalski and Private are side characters generated for the series of “Madagascar” cartoons that justified their existence by giving big stars like Ben Stiller and Chris Rock major paychecks that they otherwise might not have gotten. The Penguins then proved so winning with audiences that they were spun off for their own TV series on Nickelodeon. I have never seen, nor do I have any knowledge of the cartoon series though the existence of this movie surely must speak to its popularity.

“Penguins of Madagascar” serves as an origin story for how our four flippered heroes came together and became super secret government agents of some sort. First, we see them as children rescuing the egg that would become Private, the cute one. This will be Private’s journey even more than the rest as he attempts to rise from being ‘the cute one’ to being a ‘valued member of the team,’ Skipper’s favored phrase for praising Rico and Kowalski.

From left to right Rico, Skipper, Kowalski and Private, the Cute One in Penguins of Madagascar

From left to right Rico, Skipper, Kowalski and Private, the Cute One in Penguins of Madagascar

Private gets his chance to improve his status when the foursome is kidnapped by Dave the Octopus (John Malkovich), a revenge seeking former zoo-mate from the Bronx Zoo. Seems everywhere Dave went he briefly became a star before the Penguins showed up, upstaged him with their cuteness, and left him to rot in under-filled tanks with zero adoring fans. Now, Dave wants revenge, not just on our heroes, but all Penguins everywhere.

Attempting to thwart Dave is “North Wind” a super-secret spy organization headed up by Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his team of wild animal heroes that includes the voices of Ken Jeong, Annette Mahendru and Peter Stormare. You will have to see the movie to get the joke about the name Agent Classified, it’s a runner and it’s kind of amusing.

I’ve painted all of the picture of the plot that is necessary, so where do I go from here? How about…. Is “Penguins of Madagascar” funny? Yeah, kind of. I realize that’s not a great answer but this isn’t a great movie either. The jokes are groaningly familiar from other modern referential and self-aware animated movies. There isn’t a great deal to the modest joy of “Penguins of Madagascar” that you couldn’t get from a 500th viewing of “Despicable Me” or any of the “Madagascar” movies.

In fact, the more I think of it, the less reason there is for “Penguins of Madagascar” to exist at all. The animation isn’t too far off from a random videogame. The humor is derivative, the characters fun and cute but nothing much about them is memorable beyond one of them having the lovingly English tones of Benedict Cumberbatch. The lead performers are all unknown voice actors who are fine to listen to but don’t leave much of an impression.

Ahh, but you ask: Will my kids like it? Probably? It depends how discerning your child is. If you have a kid with some flair and taste he or she will likely squirm through the movie in hopes of getting on to something more worthy of their attention. If you have a kid who just likes pretty colors, loud noise and animals that talk,. then yes, yes that child will likely enjoy, consume and forget “Penguins of Madagascar” in short order.

So, have I justified writing about “Penguins of Madagascar?”

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