In regards to Dreamworks' 2014 animated film, Penguins of Madagascar, the subject that immediately demands attention is its nonsensical title. The Penguins of note do not spend a single scene in Madagascar. And they are not "of" Madagascar, as illustrated in a completely unnecessary opening that reveals their roots and childhood in Antarctica. The "Madagascar" in the title is only there to serve as a connection to the franchise, despite not having anything to do with the actual film (mirroring the handling of the previous two sequels). And yet, one one wonders if this was necessary at all. The Puss in Boots spin-off managed to pull of good box-office numbers without sticking "Shrek" somewhere in the title. I only mention the title because a). It is a clear illustration of the complete lack of effort and thought put into this production. And b). It is the most (and perhaps only) interesting element of the entire film.
Penguins of Madagascar follows the "spirited" hijinks of the wacky penguins of the Madagascar franchise. In this adventure, they become aware of a horrible scheme to rid the world of its penguins due to their cuteness, a source of envy of the film's antagonist: Dave, a menacing octopus. Due to overlapping interest, the penguins join forces with the animal secret agency known as the North Wind, in order to track down and detain Dave the octopus.
There's not much here that you can't find in other Dreamworks films. The slapstick, pop culture references, and lazy scatological humor is all here in spades. If you thought it was funny before, you'll have a good time. But if you've found many of Dreamworks' other affairs to be tiresome, boring, and a little annoying, then this will fail to convert you. While notable for including one brief scene in which a penguin eats a live cat onscreen, the overall film is fairly mundane. This is a by-the-numbers, cookie-cutter, check-list animation that's completely unremarkable in every way.
The derivative nature of the film may give animation buffs something to do while the time ticks by. The villain is almost identical to MegaMind - the lead character in Dreamworks' eponymous box-office disappointment - following a similar arc, boasting similar motivations, and John Malkovich's performance definitely seems to be channeling some Will Ferrell. The antagonist's big invention - the "ugliness ray" - takes a page right out of Despicable Me 2. Shades of Monsters Inc. and Over the Hedge manage to seep in as well.
Though the film supplies one or two laughs and a handful of chuckles, Penguins of Madagascar is a predictable snooze. This exercise in tedium is really only 81 minutes long (billed as 92, but 10 minutes is devoted to end credits), but it feels longer. The gags are unfunny or obvious, and the animation is far behind what the folks at Disney and Pixar are doing. Penguins of Madagascar isn't terrible, and I'm sure it works great for the under-10 crowd, but there are too many thoughtful and interesting animated films out there to even consider wasting time on this one.
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