Super spy teams aren’t born…they’re hatched. Discover the secrets of the greatest and most hilarious covert birds in the global espionage biz: Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private. These elitists of the elite are joining forces with a chic undercover organization, The North Wind. Led by handsome and husky Agent Classified (we could tell you his name, but then…you know), voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Together, they must stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine, voiced by John Malkovich, from destroying the world as we know it.
Ever since Madagascar came out back in 2005, the team of Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private have been the franchise’s breakout, scene-stealing stars. DreamWorks has parlayed their popularity into a Nickelodeon series, and now they take center stage on screen for the first time in Penguins of Madagascar. So how does the team hold up?
Surprisingly, rather well. The key to the popularity of the Penguins in the Madagascar films is that their appearances are a fun diversion from the main plot. Even though they’re the anchors of the main plot this time, the film’s setup basically takes the characters from set piece to set piece, allowing for the Penguins to improbably accomplish various tasks in spite of themselves with a maximum amount of humor and cuteness.
In other words: the film technically messes with the formula for what’s made the Penguins popular, but only so much. Take the birth of Private, seen in the trailer embedded below. The scene is cute, then quickly undercut with a hilarious, deadpan line. The film then quickly wraps and moves onto the present day, rather than wearing out its welcome.
As far as adversaries go, there’s something particularly fun about having a crazed octopus voiced by John Malkovich, who tends to bring a certain craziness to many of his roles. Here, he’s a perfect foil for the Penguins – smart enough to be a conceivable threat, but unhinged enough to make his inevitable defeat plausible. Keep an ear out for the names of his henchmen – they provide a running joke that threatens to become stale until it becomes so ridiculous, it becomes funny all over again.
While the studio’s rivals over at Disney and Pixar have had their share of successes in recent years, DreamWorks Animation has fallen by the wayside, critically and commercially. Penguins of Madagascar may not reach the heights of what their rivals are doing these days, but it focuses on making a funny film for all ages, and largely succeeds.