Penguins of Madagascar review: cracking jokes keep these birdbrains flying high

Birds of little brain still manage to fly fairly high in funny sequel

Film Title: Penguins of Madagascar

Director: Simon J Smith, Eric Darnell

Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, Christopher Knights

Genre: Animation

Running Time: 91 min

Fri, Dec 5, 2014, 05:00

   

The release of this very funny animation gives us a chance to ponder the unlikely history of the Madagascar franchise. The original film passed the time perfectly decently, thanks to solid support from Sacha Baron Cohen’s amusing Lemur. The first sequel was predictably awful, but Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – featuring a script co-written by Noah Baumbach – proved to be the funniest of the trilogy.

That’s right. The director of Margot at the Wedding and Frances Ha helped write the third film in that cartoon franchise about the nervous giraffe and the vainglorious lion. Ha! What next? Are they going to get Michael Haneke on board for the penguin-centred spin-off? Ha ha.

No, it’s Werner Herzog actually. The legendary German director, taking amusing aim at his own vocal persona, turns up as the voice of a documentary film-maker in the hilarious opening sequence. Here we learn how the four penguins escaped Antarctica to become brave citizens of the world.

In the current project, they find themselves teaming up with a cadre of animal secret agents, led by Benedict Cumberbatch’s arrogant gray wolf, to frustrate the evil plans of John Malkovich’s emotionally stunted octopus.

Penguins of Madagascar is a spin-off of a TV series that span off from the film sequence, and it has all the throwaway quality of such an enterprise. The animation is good enough but never remarkable. The story is satisfactory, if short on imagination. But the jokes are magnificent throughout.

A running gag that makes puns of celebrities’ names is particularly fecund. “Nicolas, Cage them!” and so forth. Priceless.