Penguins of Madagascar Review
I am trying to remember at this point if there were any penguins among the Looney Tunes. If there weren’t before, there are now. DreamWorks’ The Penguins of Madagascar is basically a feature length Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s as ridiculously unhinged and silly as that sounds. It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch, but you would be hard-pressed not to be entertained by this movie.
Talking about the plot of this movie is almost pointless. There is one, but it’s going to sound ridiculous no matter what I say. The Penguins include the leader Skipper (Tom McGrath), the brains Kowalski (Chris Miller), the crazy one Rico (Conrad Vernon), and the cute one Private (Christopher Knights). The penguins invade Ft. Knox to buy some Cheetos for Private’s birthday, and they’re abducted by a vending machine. It takes them to meet the villain, a mad scientist squid who can imitate people, Dave (played by Jon Malkovich), who wants to punish all penguins for being cuter than him and stealing his fame. They’re rescued by a team of animal agents called North Wind, led by the wolf named Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch). The rest of the movie is the penguins and North Wind trying to stop Dave and annoying the crap out of each other as they go while Skipper confuses Shanghai for “the famous little Asia district of Dublin.”
If that doesn’t sound up your alley, RUN. This movie will just confuse and annoy you with its ridiculousness. If you can go with, like I did, you might be pleasantly surprised by how entertaining this is. Letting Jon Malkovich play the villain in an over-the-top ridiculous animated film can only lead to a massively entertaining performance sandwich of hilarious cheese and insane ham, and the animators make the squid’s movements so fun to watch that, combined with Malkovich’s crazy energy, any scene with Dave is a blast. North Wind basically exists to mock James Bond spy tropes as well as big effects heavy superhero movies like The Avengers, and they are always consistently funny. The mere fact that they managed to make Ken Jeong entertaining and not annoying is a small feat in and of itself, and having Peter Stormare play a polar bear who is also the kind-hearted muscle of North Wind is comedy gold.
Much of the humor in this movie relies on the ridiculousness of the situations, and luckily there’s plenty of those. The one everyone has seen in the trailer is particularly funny because it involves the Penguins falling out of a plane and surviving by crashing through several other planes and stealing an inflatable bounce castle to absorb their fall; that one’s funny, but there are many other hilarious sight gags that outshine it. Luckily, there is also plenty of hilarious dialogue to provide humor other than insane slapstick and sight gags. All of these characters have immense personality and the actors deliver the dialogue with all of the gusto and lack of restraint necessary to sell a premise this ridiculous. Unfortunately, the dialogue humor also tends to lead to the movie’s biggest groaners. The dialogue occasionally collapses into toilet humor and there are some of the most intricately awful puns I’ve ever heard in any movie here, spoken mainly by Dave. I won’t spoil them, but just listen and see if you hear any names you recognize.
I’m not going to say this movie is perfect. The plot operates entirely on cartoon logic, some of the jokes don’t work, and if you can’t buy the ridiculousness then you will have no fun in this movie. However, if you can get behind it, Penguins of Madagascar can be thoroughly entertaining. The movie is action-packed and pretty consistently funny, and the characters hearken back to the golden age Looney Tunes humor while updating it with modern sensibilities.
This movie starts with the Penguins literally and figuratively jettisoning themselves from the Madagascar movies, and I think that’s for the best. These guys work best as a solo act.