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article imageReview: ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ balances cuteness with dexterity Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 26, 2014 in Entertainment
A penguin’s cuteness is the perfect distraction for any plan. In ‘Penguins of Madagascar,’ the adorable team joins a suave spy agency to prevent widespread destruction.
Though they weren’t central figures in the narratives, there were two animals that stole the spotlight in the Madagascar movies: the lemurs and the penguins. Capitalizing on their popularity, a TV series was created that starred the espionage-loving birds, which were unsurprisingly entertaining. It was only a matter of time before they got their own feature film — but then the question becomes whether they can shoulder a full-length narrative. Penguins of Madagascar answers the question mostly in the affirmative.
Beginning with the team’s origin story, audiences are taken to Antarctica where it becomes immediately evident they weren’t like their brethren. As an egg rolls past hundreds of indifferent marching penguins towards a cliff edge, a young Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) are the only ones to take action. The rescued egg hatches to reveal Private (Christopher Knights) and the group is set adrift to become global zoo stars. Fast forward several years and a birthday surprise of Cheezy Dibbles at Fort Knox leads the group to stumble upon the evil Dr. Octavius Brine (John Malkovich) and his nefarious plan to kidnap the world’s penguins. While the team feels confident in their abilities, they join forces with elite spy squad, North Wind led by Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), to save the world’s cuteness.
Skipper takes a break for his favourite snack in  Penguins of Madagascar
Skipper takes a break for his favourite snack in 'Penguins of Madagascar'
DreamWorks Animation
The voice cast is a key element to any animated film. A mismatched voice can singlehandedly ruin a character and the movie. With the penguins in the spotlight, it’s terrific to have the original actors return to do their vocals and maintain the appreciated consistency across pictures. This feat of continuity is likewise achieved by keeping writer/director Eric Darnell at the helm for the latest picture in the Madagascar franchise. But there are also great opportunities for new personalities to share the stage. Cumberbatch is an excellent match for the handsome, no-nonsense husky that leads the high-tech team of professionals. Malkovich’s off-the-wall performance captures Brine’s madness impeccably well, making the villain one of the film’s most entertaining elements. And opening with a voiceover by documentarian Werner Herzog is a treat for all the in-the-know adults.
Having to incorporate the other characters and stretch the story beyond 30 minutes is a bit of a constraint for the normally free-rein penguins. As a result they are not always as over-the-top as audiences may be used to, but they still manage to be as amusing as ever. North Wind’s serious approach to every situation and their very organized plans are in stark contrast to Skipper’s generally chaotic methods, but they eventually learn that both tactics can be valuable depending on the situation.
Agent Classified is not impressed by Skipper in  Penguins of Madagascar
Agent Classified is not impressed by Skipper in 'Penguins of Madagascar'
DreamWorks Animation
Attempting to thwart a criminal mastermind predictably sets in motion a number of high-flying action sequences. While North Wind’s techniques are very flashy with lots of gadgets and firepower, the penguins’ are usually a bit goofier though still effectual using whatever is at hand (or flipper). In one instance, Private’s yearning to be a valuable team member sadly means he must serve as a distraction in a silly mermaid outfit, while the others get to swing on fossils or execute other key parts of the plan. This underestimating of Private’s abilities is a theme throughout, though when the rest of the team is hideously incapacitated he finally gets the chance to prove he’s capable of doing more than just looking cute.
Directors: Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith
Starring: Tom McGrath, John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch
More about Review, Penguins of Madagascar, Benedict cumberbatch, John Malkovich, Animated
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