Penguins are the best in “Penguins of Madagascar”

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The lukewarm reception of the “Penguins of Madagascar” TV show could invoke a negative reception for the titular movie. But style over substance rears its head and causes the movie to seem like a shameless cash grab at certain intervals, as directors Simon Smith and Eric Darnell attempt to explore the Indian Ocean with this grandiose adventure.

The story is interwoven with its sister series “Madagascar,” which results in a lot of allusions to the characters and plot of that respective series. The premise of the film has been seen in so many other contemporary cartoon films. It starts off as a prequel to the television series and shows the birth and growth of the four penguins Skipper (Tim McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights). These penguins become a team and go on various adventures, from spy exploits to rescue missions. However, Private begins to feel as though he has no role in the group because everyone has a unique combative role whether it be the leader (Skipper), or the brains of the group (Kowalski). Private goes soul searching, hoping to gain skills that would be beneficial for the team’s success and ultimately grant him a role.

The movie explores a variety of themes, from self-actualization to having a healthy relationship within a team. But thanks to a bombastic script that often aggrandized many scenes in the film the resulting sequences end up feeling forced. The film would often remind the viewers that Private is on a journey to find himself with useless monologuing that didn’t progress his character. The banter among the Penguins is excellent and their name calling and abrasive behavior is automatically relatable to anyone with a close friend or siblings. But many of the outside relationships suffer from a poorly written script that hits you over the head with concepts rather than exploring them organically.

The voice acting is the best part of the film by far. Many of the voice actors bring their A-game as they take on the personas of the many animals seen in the film. McGrath does a wonderful job as Skipper and brings a calculating but sympathetic aesthetic to the screen, while Knights pulls from deep down to go to a place of loss to explore all the facets of Private’s personality. All of the voices made the film feel authentic, as if they were actually interacting with each other in real-time.

The soundtrack also immersed the viewers into the setting by making the crazy antics almost believable. The soundtrack was actually pretty impressive for the simple fact that it made the larger-than-life events in the movie have gravity and weight. It encompasses city music with lots of instrumentation to emphasize the hustle and bustle of the land and tropical sounds which were simpler to set the tone of the island regions. Every musical choice transitioned seamlessly and there were never any parts where the music seemed too overbearing to incorporate comedy or exposition, which many cartoon movies happen to do.

“Penguins of Madagascar” isn’t a film that too many will be fond of if you’re older than 15. The script is too in-your-face to appease older moviegoers, who are more likely accustomed to movies that actually contain scripts and plots with authenticity. The issues tackled were done with a sweet approach that comes naturally to films of this genre. Although no real sense of gravity was embedded into the issues, the music does a great job at distracting the viewers from this issue by trying to add a layer of realism to the movie. What saves this film from becoming a complete snoozefest is its soundtrack and voice acting, which breathe life into this tropical tale.

Rating: 3 stars

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