Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

Review first published by Film4

Synopsis: There are madcap penguins, a secret arctic agency, and a grudge-bearing octopus mastermind in this 3D animated spinoff from the Madagascar franchise.

Review: “I reject nature!” declares young penguin Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath) in the Antarctic. Not ones to leave any penguin behind, he, Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon), stray from the colony to rescue an imperilled egg, and end up zoo exhibits, escape artists and elite agents. Yet if the third film in the Madagascar series took place in a circus, the surreal-jiving penguins have always played sideshow freaks to the lion, giraffe, hippo and zebra who are the franchise’s main attractions. Now, after a dry run in several dedicated cartoon shows for television, these strange birds get their first solo flight of fancy in Penguins Of Madagascar, hoping to be recognised in their own right – much as their buddy Private (Christopher Knights) longs to be regarded as a valued member of the team rather than merely as a cute ‘sidekick/mascot’ to the other penguins.

The plot, involving a vengeful octopus (voiced by John Malkovich!) with a mutant-monster-making ray gun, is an entirely disposable Bond parody (including the most insane Venice canal chase you will ever see) – and not so very different from the story in Despicable Me 2, whose cute chorus of Minions is soon also to get its own feature. Better to watch Penguins Of Madagascar for its breakneck banter, manic mayhem, postmodern pastiche and terrible puns – all of which is no less disposable, but infectiously hilarious. With their irrepressible can-do spirit and eschewal of gravity’s laws, these fast-talking waddlers deviate from the flock, and from the image of penguins-vs-cruel-nature seen in innumerable documentaries (lampooned at the beginning, with a cameo from none other than the real Werner Herzog). When Skipper rejects nature, he embraces fantasy, allowing this 3D animated absurdity, in all its patchiness, to take wing.

In a nutshell: These flightless, feathered funsters may be flipper-flapping above their own weight and shooting fish in a barrel, but if you laugh – and you will laugh – it’s mission accomplished.

Anton Bitel