Directors: Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith
Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong
Written by: Brandon Sawyer, (also story) John Aboud, Michael Colton, (story) Alan J. Schoolcraft, Brent Simons, (based on the characters created) Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath.
Running Time: 92 mins
Release date: 5th December 2014
I was never a huge fan of the animated comedy Madagascar. I found the adventures of a bunch of lost animals lacking in real comedy bite and the only thing that was mildly amusing were the mischievous penguins. Their cameo appearances made for an occasional giggle. So giving these cheeky chappies a feature to themselves seems a risky gamble. Can characters that are amusing for a few minutes be funny enough for 90 minutes? They can. Just.
Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private, the penguins, come face to face with Dr. Octavius Brine, or as they know him, Dave the octopus. Dave has a plan to take over the world by stealing all the penguins from zoos he has been removed from and turning them into monsters. On the case are The North Wind, a secret society led by wolf Classified. The penguins, upsetting the group, decide that they have the resources to stop their former enemy.
The film starts with a bang. I mean a huge bang. A pre-credit sequence which shows the penguins as youngsters with a documentary crew filming their every move, led by a narration from German film director Werner Herzog. For film lovers, this is a brilliant and hilarious scene that sets the bar very high. Sadly, the film makers cannot continue this terrific start but they give it all they have.
The plot is wafer thin and it bounces around completely haphazardly, yet no one really cares as set piece after mad set piece graces the screen. The penguins get into enough scrapes and slapstick moments to keep the younger audience happy and while there is plenty for the adults to enjoy, this seems to be a film aimed at film lovers.
Dave’s crew of bland octopus all have names that link up with film stars (Elijah! Would you get that! William! Hurt them! etc) and while these are delivered with lightning speed, if you do catch them, they are incredibly clever and raise more than a giggle. Yet you do feel that unless you are a lover of the motion picture, these will go over the heads of even the ardent movie goer.
Having said that, the jokes do come thick and fast and while most don’t always hit the target, the ones that do work really well and in a year when comedies have failed to deliver, it’s nice to hear an audience actually laughing, even if they are completely bonkers and off the wall.
The voice talent seem to be having loads of fun. John Malkovich as the evil octopus seems the most outlandish choice and yet it works, while the smooth tones of Mr everywhere-at-the-moment, Benedict Cumberbatch, has all the appeal of George Saunders’ Sher Khan with a bizarre touch of Alan Partridge.
The Penguins Of Madagascar isn’t the most coherent piece this year and some may struggle with the nonsensical plot and quirky humour but with so many naff comedies around at the moment, this has more laughs in the first five minutes than most have throughout their whole running time, so that can’t be too bad. And any film that has Werner Herzog saying “tumbling onto their chubby bum bums” can’t be all bad.