Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John Malkovich
Directed by: Eric Darnell (“Madagascar”) and Simon J. Smith (“Bee Movie”)
Written by: John Aboud (debut), Michael Colton (debut) and Brandon Sawyer (debut)
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that animation studios are finding every possible angle to take to keep their most profitable franchises going for as long as they can. Over at DreamWorks Animation, the company is milking everything from their catalog with feature film sequels and animated TV shows and home videos and Christmas special of popular properties like “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Their biggest success, however, is probably from the mileage they’re getting out of their “Madagascar” stock, which first splintered into a Nickelodeon TV series featuring their penguin characters – Rico, Skipper, Kowalski and Private – in 2008.
With the animated film “Penguins of Madagascar” now at theaters, DreamWorks has proven there is no end in sight for the blossoming series and that secondary characters in major franchises have just as much to say as the characters (and just as much money to make) as those that take top billing. With the “Minions” movie coming out of Universal Pictures in July 2015, what can moviegoers expect to see as children clamor for more of their favorite sidekicks? How about a “Toy Story” spin-off featuring Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head? Or how about a “Frozen” movie where we get an origin story about those annoying stone trolls?
Whatever is next, parents will be happy to know that even though “Penguins of Madagascar” is unavoidable, it’s not unwatchable. It is, in fact, a creative way to introduce audiences to the stealthy spy penguins and their adventures without having anyone above the age of 12 who is accompanying the little ones planning their escape route from the theater before the credits rolls.
In “Penguins of Madagascar,” the fearsome foursome of flightless birds are on the trail to stop villain and geneticist Dr. Octavius Brine (voiced perfectly by John Malkovich) who is actually a purple octopus disguised as a lanky man of science. Dr. Brine (AKA Dave) has developed something he calls the Medusa serum and is set on using it to cause global havoc. We won’t ruin what the serum actually does since that happens in the third act, but it’s reminiscent of what happens to our friends the Minions in “Despicable Me 2.” Helping out the penguins on their mission is another group of spies called the North Wind, made up of a team of international agents, who also happen to be animals.
While the spy roster gets a bit diluted with the number of members on the team, there are enough exciting moments and homages to the spy genre that, while familiar, are enjoyable, especially when it’s the penguins who are giving most of the tactical support to save the day. “Penguins of Madagascar” isn’t very inspired filmmaking, but with Malkovich’s voice work and our arctic heroes leading the way, it’s harmless fun.