Penguins of Madagascar

All apologies to Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, but let’s fact it—the best parts of Dreamworks’ Madagascar trilogy are the Penguins. Are they good enough to deserve their own movie, though? Sure, I suppose…even if the end result is, well, what we get with Penguins of Madagascar.

A super-frenetic, all-over-the-place (literally… they’re everywhere from Antarctica to Rio to Venice to New York City) crazy, slap-dash adventure, Penguins is all action. And that doesn’t leave room for much else. No, I’m not expecting Out of Africa-like character development, but it sure would have been nice (for adults, anyway), if our flightless heroes had taken a pause occasionally. When at last a break in the action came, I looked down at my watch. It had been 45 straight minutes of escaping seals, Fort Knox break-ins, and gondola chases. Apparently the animators, writers, and directors spent the three years the movie was in production main-lining Red Bull.

After bring abducted by a revenge-minded octopus named Dave (John Malkovich), the mono-chromatic quartet escapes and joins forces with the North Wind, an animal spy league made up of wolf Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), polar bear Corporal (Peter Stormare), snowy owl Eva (Annet Mahendru), and harp seal Short Fuse (Ken Jeong). Together, the Penguins and the North Wind (yes, there’s a “break Wind” joke) battle Dave and his henchmen, leaving Penguins to feel more like an animal kingdom hybrid of Despicable Me and Megamind than anything as original as the Madagascar movies that came before it.

The jokes come almost as fast and furious as the action, and though some of them fall with a thud (ah, the requisite potty humor), there are quite a few sight gags and clever lines that manage to stick the landing. (“Nicholas, cage them!” Dave yells to one of his subordinate squids. And that’s just the tip of the punny iceberg.)

In the end, there’s no doubt that kids will have a ball watching the Penguins bounce all over the place, but there’s not really enough here for adults to appreciate—especially given its 90-minutes-but-seems-longer run time. Had Dreamworks instead cobbled together the best parts for a fine, half-hour Thanksgiving TV special… well, then we might have something worth gathering the family ’round to watch.

3/5 stars