Friday, November 28, 2014

Penguins of Madagascar [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (G. Cheshire) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

Penguins of Madagascar [2014] (directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith, screenplay by John Aboud, Michael Colton and Brandon Sawyer, characters by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath) gives the scene stealing penguins of the DreamWorks Animations' Madagascar franchise a goofy, dare one say "Looney" feature film of their own, And ... well, if you grew-up loving Warner Bros' old Looney Tunes cartoons (Bugs Bunny / Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Cayote / Roadrunner, etc) in this film, IMHO you'll have something to share with your little ones (kids, grandkids or beyond).

The film offers basically the "origin story" for the Madagascar franchise's penguins, who we come to discover are both (hopefully a bit) "smarter than the average penguin" and at least as "cursed" by their "cuteness" as they are blessed. 

The story begins out in Antarctica where a human film crew is shown enthusiastically filming a seemingly endless -- horizon-to-horizon -- procession of unbelievably cute, single-file arrayed, waddling penguins (documentary film-maker Werner Herzog providing the solemn March of the Penguins [2005]-like human voice-over) waddling to ... where exactly?  Not even the penguins know.

And that BOTHERS at least a group of three penguins -- Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath), Rico (voiced by Conrad Vernon) and Kowalski (voiced by Chris Miller) -- who'd prefer to think of themselves as being "far cooler" (and somewhat "smarter") than the others.

So when they see a penguin egg rolling down a slope past them (and none of the other penguins seem to be particularly concerned about the probable impending death of a baby penguin, because they were all "busy" waddling to ... "Somewhere" ...), the three use the rolling egg down the hill as an excuse to "break ranks" and set themselves free from this tyranny of mindless if perhaps impossibly cute conformity.

They find and save the egg, it hatches, and Private (voiced by Christopher Knights), the "D'Artagnan" of this "Three-Musketeer-ing" group (of Penguins...) is born.   Fancying themselves as a "Band of Brothers [2001]-ish" / "Trio-plus-One" of "ninja super spies" much then ensues.

And much of what ensues is GLEEFULLY "looney" ... In an early exploit, the four break into Fort Knox, NOT to steal gold (what would gold be to a Penguin?) but instead to gain access to a "rare vending machine" that still sells really unhealthy (but to a Penguin, apparently irresistible, gold colored) "cheese puffs" ;-)

But the story really begins when the four come across villainous shape-shifting Octopus, his zoo-name being "Dave" (voiced by John Malkovich), who had a real grudge against Penguins.  Why?  At zoo after zoo, aquarium after aquarium Penguins' simple, even stupid "cuteness" ALWAYS trumped the INTELLIGENCE and ACROBATICS of "his kind" (honestly Octopi are very intelligent creatures, and actually often quite cute as well ... just NOT as cute as Penguins ;-).   Well, "Dave" a very intelligent Octupus with a "chip on his shoulder" (do octopi have have shoulders?) comes up with a plan to spray all the Penguins that he can get his tentacles on with a serum that would render them into ugly mutant-like "zombie penguins"... And it's up to these three-plus-one "super-spy" / "ninja" penguins to stop him!

And it would actually go easier, if not for the not-exactly asked-for intervention of an "elite squad" of "far smarter / stronger" animals (than the "cute but not particularly bright" Penguins) getting in the way.  The squad, calling itself "The North Wind" is led by a solemn British-accented Wolf (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) who's sooo undercover that he goes by the name "Classified" ;-) and it includes a Baby Seal (if not a NAVY SEAL) nicknamed "Short Fuse" (voiced by Ken Jeong), a Russian accented White Owl called Eva (voiced by Annet Mahendru) and a brawnish Polar Bear nicknamed Corporal (voiced by Peter Stormare).  They, of course, dismiss the Penguins as "amateurs" (which they are ... ;-).   But who will "save the day" ...?

Guess ;-)

Folks, this is a very goofy movie.  But if you liked the antics of the Looney Tunes Characters of old (Elmer Fudd's "Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit...") then honestly you'll probably love this.  Just about every one of the characters in this story is funny, and just about everyone of them could have a story built around them.  And that, of course, bodes very, very well for a "franchise" ;-)

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