Penguins of Madagascar

Posted on November 25, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 26, 2014
Date Released to DVD: March 16, 2015 ASIN: B00SK573RU

The most adorable characters from the first three animated “Madagascar” movies were the penguins, the seldom right but never in doubt leader Skipper (Tom McGrath), the often right but never listened to Kowalski (Chris Miller), the literally explosive Rico (Conrad Vernon), and the ever-loyal Private (Christopher Knights). They spun off into their own television series and now they star in their first feature film, a sublimely silly spy farce that has them globe-hopping through exotic locations with a cosmopolitan spy (Benedict Cumberbatch) in pursuit of a dastardly villain known as Dr. Octavious Brine, aka Dave (John Malkovich). It is one of the best family films of the year.

Copyright DreamWorks 2014
Copyright DreamWorks 2014

First, we get the origin story, hilariously narrated in the inimitable voice of director/documentarian Werner Herzog. It is Antarctica, and a film crew led by a cartoon Herzog (who did make a movie in Antarctica, “Encounters at the End of the World”) is there to shoot the march of the penguins. But Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico step out of line to rescue an egg that is rolling away, and the decision to think for themselves and to opt for adventure and loyalty to the team over tradition and instinct — plus a more-than-healthy dose of boundless confidence and optimism soon has them floating away from the frozen South Pole and on their way to uncharted lands, or lands uncharted by any penguins anyway. The egg they have saved finally hatches, and while they are a bit distressed to find that the miracle of birth is messier than they thought, they are charmed by the tiny hatchling and especially by the way they imprint on him as the only family he has ever known.

We next see the penguins years later, following the events of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. They are on a mission to break into that most impenetrable of fortresses, Fort Knox, repository of the US Government’s store of gold. But their goal is not what we might think. And the outcome is not what they expect. They are kidnapped by an enormous purple octopus, brilliantly animated, with every tentacle and crooked tooth creating comic menace. His human identity is Dr. Octavius Brine, well-known geneticist, aficionado of fine cheeses, and regular contributor to NPR pledge drives. But inside that lab coat is his real persona, the evil purple octopus named…Dave.

Yeah, I know, not too scary, right? And that is just one of the immense frustrations Dave has to confront, which is why he has created the green, ominously glowing Medusa serum. No one knows what it does, but it looks pretty evil.

It turns out someone has been tracking Dr. Brine. An international organization of crack spies called the North Wind, led by a wolf so deep undercover his name is classified (so the Penguins call him Classified) is trying to find him. The North Wind and the penguins stop in Venice, Rio, Shanghai (which the penguins think is Ireland) and other world capitals, sometimes working together, sometimes trying to beat each other to Dave and the Medusa serum. It turns out that Dave’s motive is one that will ring very true to kids, especially those with adorable younger siblings.

But of course, all of this is just an excuse for a never-ending stream of jokes. My favorite is Dave’s disastrously non-threatening Skype call as he tries to figure out how to transmit sound and picture at the same time. “It’s like trying to call my parents,” Classified says impatiently. The break-in at Fort Knox is very funny as the penguins roll over to camouflage themselves on a black and white striped floor. And a running joke featuring puns on celebrity names is delivered with such understated dry humor that it never loses its charm. If, as they say in the theater, dying is easy but comedy is hard, silly comedy may be the hardest of all, but here it is done to perfection, one more item to add to the thanks list on this holiday weekend.

Parents should know that this film has brief potty humor, and some comic peril and action (no one hurt).

Family discussion: Why was Dave so jealous of the penguins? Why didn’t Classified want the penguins to help him?

If you like this, try: “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” and the television series “The Penguins of Madagascar”

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3D Animation Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For the Whole Family Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel Spies Talking animals
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