Penguins of Madagascar (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

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The penguins finally have their day in the theater!  Penguins of Madagascar is a spin-off of the popular Madagascar films and unrelated to the similarly titled television show.  Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private are drawn into an international conspiracy to rob penguins of their cuteness and may be the only beings alive who can stop it.  Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith direct.

Born ready

"You just mermaid my day."


An admission before I dig into Penguins of Madagascar.  I love puns.  There's something simple and wonderful about a comedic form whose sole purpose is to please people in a cheesy fashion.  It's my love of puns that set my course in stone the second I finished the trailer for Penguins of Madagascar.  Here was a film so eager to entertain that the catchphrase above sums up the experience so well as it mermaid my day.

Penguins of Madagascar has the streamlined and colorful look of the other Madagascar films but isn't constrained by the inter-species struggle that punctuates their plots.  Instead, Penguins of Madagascar displays that curious habit that children's franchises dip into - the spy farce.  Penguins of Madagascar joins the ranks of films like Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (which I also liked) as films with creative teams who must have watched Our Man Flint more than any James Bond story.  So the penguins, as is their wont in life, get caught up in international shenanigans involving an evil octopus and his plan to de-cute the flightless birds.

Visual gags abound, like the penguin's use of this loading zone as impromptu camouflage.

Visual gags abound, like the penguin's use of this loading zone as impromptu camouflage.

If you're looking for rhyme or reason to Penguins of Madagascar's international caper you'll be terribly disappointed.  This gives directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith the opportunity to move the story basically wherever they want.  I really can't find a fault in this approach when they keep the pace of the penguins' journey as break-neck as this.  Each country is lovingly painted in their most well-known cultural signifiers.  This gives some of the set-pieces some surprising twists, like when the waterways of Venice run out quickly and the penguins are forced to use paddles as gigantic stilts.

But really it's just an excuse to load the screen with as many jokes as possible, be they visual or based on those lovely puns.  I had a good laugh when Skipper (Tom McGrath), after getting ink out of his eyes, again has his eyes covered by some impromptu curtains after during the Venice chase and yells, "Venetian blinded again!"  Then there's the moment that had me practically squealing when the penguins, in a moment of shame, perform a Bavarian slap dance (complete with suspenders and cute hats) for a crowd of evil octopi.  I laughed hard enough at that, but the real joy came from seeing the penguins lead the multicolored octopi brigade on a slap dance parade down and around the pier.

Cartoon physics and octopi villains are a good fit with the lead villain the dark half of one of my favorite aquatic superdads.

Cartoon physics and dastardly octopi are a good fit with the lead villain reminding me of my favorite aquatic superdad having a bad day.

What's refreshing about Penguins of Madagascar is how screenwriters Michael Colton, John Aboud, and Brandon Sawyer openly communicate their willingness to distance themselves from the previous Madagascar films.  Early on there's a moment where the penguins blow themselves up with fireworks instead of enduring one more minute of "this song".  The humor is also tinged with real-world harshness, signaled both by a wonderful cameo from director Werner Herzog ("Look at them, tumbling onto their chubby bum bums") and lines like, "I think I have amniotic sac in my mouth."  Since there are predators, someone has to be the prey, even if the intended targets misplace the threat ("Leopard seals, nature's snakes."  "Aren't snakes nature's snakes?")

All this might seem a bit annoying after some time and, truth be told, Penguins of Madagascar had me yawning more than smiling with 15 minutes to go.  But it also had me laughing a lot more than just about any other adult comedy of the last year.  It's simple, eager to please, and succeeds way more often that not.  In lieu of depth, I'll take the laughter.

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Tail - The Penguins of MadagascarPenguins of Madagascar (2014)

Directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith.
Screenplay written by Michael Colton, John Aboud, and Brandon Sawyer.
Starring Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch, and John Malkovich.

Posted by Andrew

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