The Penguins Of Madagascar (2014)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/30/14
Cast: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, cameo by Werner Herzog

An origin story of sorts about those lovably loony penguins from the "Madagascar" films. It begins with young versions of Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), and Rico (Conrad Vernon), finding an abandoned penguin egg and rescuing it from certain doom. It hatches into the adorable Private (Christopher Knights), and the others immediately adopt him as part of their family. Ten years later, we find the penguins escaping from the zoo and infiltrating Fort Knox, where they encounter the evil Dr. Octavius Brine (John Malkovich). It turns out that in addition to being a brilliant mad scientist, Brine is also an emotionally scarred octopus who has an extreme hatred towards penguins and anything cute and cuddly. He vows revenge on all of the zoos that rejected him and all of the penguins that stole the limelight from him. Just when Brine (also known as Dave) is about to get the upper hand, the penguins are rescued by a high-tech action team called The North Wind. While The North Wind and the penguins are constantly at odds with each other's protocols, they eventually end up working together to battle Dave and rescue Private from his villainous clutches.

It's a fun and silly action/comedy/adventure romp, and the penguins' antics are always enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, it overstays its welcome by about thirty minutes, and the outrageous climax is more absurd than it needs to be. Continuity with the rest of the penguins' established universe is a bit loose, but I honestly didn't pay that much attention to it. The action scenes are definitely frantic, and sprinkled with gratuitous 3D effects. John Malkovich goes over the top with his insane performance of Dave, but his enthusiasm invigorates the film. Benedict Cumberbatch is wonderful as the refined and rather snotty leader of The North Wind, and Tom McGrath's crazy portrayal of Skipper is pure delight. The animation looks great and overall it's a very well made film. Some of the dialog doesn't work and some of the humor feels forced, but for the most part, the film is a fun and engaging way to shut off your brain and escape real life for a short time.