By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest) and James Robert Shaw (The Wind up Geek)
Ed: I have to think that the Penguins of Madagascar movie arrived far too late to make a noticable dent in the wall. If only the production went into high gear when DreamWorks realized they had a runaway product back in 2005, and it released around 2008, interest would’ve been high. To wait nearly a decade later diminished their overall appeal. As high-speed and kinetic as this film was, this animated beast was of a different colour. The story had none of the panache that introduced audiences to these merry penguins back when they first appeared in Madagascar. The the ha-ha from the television series is okay, but it did not quite work for me. I had high hopes and was let down.
James: The opportunity on marketing for this film was missed due perhaps to the length of time between projects. I saw no movie figures, no plushies of Skipper and his bunch, and I saw no limited run of Cheese Dibbles.
I wanted an all-star Penguins movie with King Julien, Mort, Marlene, et al but we were treated to an all-penguin film which would’ve been okay if the universe of the TV series was better utilized. What we ended up with were pale comparisons of their TV counterparts. And don’t get me started about the change back to using the original voice actor (Chris Miller) of Kowalski.
E: Oh good lord! More King Julien? As despised as he is by his fellow zoo animals, I don’t think I can stand a 90min film with him being prominent throughout. My friend, you have not been keeping up with the series as well as I have. Yeah, Jeff Bennett has spent more time to give Kowalski life, but I enjoy Miller’s more calculating version. However, I’m more bothered about how Skipper’s time alone in Denmark is quickly glossed over like it’s of no importance. Apparently they have never spent any time apart. That can lead to some continuity issues if everyone is going to believe the television and film series share the same universe when they do not.
J: I see no reason for Ed to love the Penguins from the Madagascar films more than their TV personas. The Madagascar films are running out of steam and even though there is yet another in the making. I feel they are beating a dead horse or maybe Marty the zebra, if we’re lucky (crackalackin’). But I’m inclined to agree with you that the movie is too many years too late. With a better script the Penguins would’ve accomplished their mission and been entertaining. Here’s hoping for another television season.
E: I saw the seed of a good idea when the film started. The penguins were a trio before Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski and Rico (Conrad Vernon) decided to go against the pack and ‘reject nature’ to save an egg. If only the plot went further showing the character development of how Private (Christopher Knights) felt as being separate from the pack. Quite often, he’s the support crew and he’s rarely in the forefront. To see the story focus on him felt good, but it just did not have the depth needed to make this film stand out like a PIXAR film.
Instead, the narrative was all over with vignettes. In the main plot about Dave (John Malkovich), a mad octopus having a hate on for all of penguin kind, I could not help but be reminded of the revenge plot Dr. Blowhole hatched from the television series. I was seeing familiarity in this film and I did find that Malkovich did a great job in getting into the role. Even Benedict Cumberbatch was patient and commanding as a timber wolf. They nearly stole the show.
J: The Penguins fell into that crack in the ice where all potentially great animated films go and that is the rehashed formula. You know the one, where someone learns a life lesson and the meaning of family is touched upon. The plot is so transparent it could be used as a store front window. Frankly, I thought the writers would’ve come up with something different. Normally I could bear it if there is enough character development but there was no such safety net. I thought Private was downright wishy-washy.
E: I was okay with Private in the film, since he’s the innocent child filled with bright-eyed wonder. In the television series, he was a lot more confident, conniving and skilled (the episodes Mr. Tux, Wishful Thinking and Love Hurts come to mind). However, I was a bit irritated to see that he pushed buttons like they were there for someone to press. Had he not, the penguins wouldn’t have not ended up in their predictable predicament. And the puns. I could hear you, James, groan a mile away. The script just pushed the limits of what could have been a fun spy caper ala The Pink Panther. The Mission: Impossible was most improbable. At least some of the music was good.
J: Having to listen to the writers play the game of using as many Hollywood celebrities names in the script is old hat. And the scene where the Penguins forgot who the villain (and his name) was drew on for far too long. It was good in the first two scenes but after that it was an annoyance.
E: I wonder how many people would agree with me that all the best scenes were taken away by the trailers. There were no surprises left! We went into the film hoping to find some other hijinks, but alas, there really was none. I really wanted to love this film but this product is a step down from the bravado the penguins represented in the Madagascar films. That’s what I wanted to see.
Instead, what I witnessed is on par with the television series. Sure, that’s fine for my buddy James to enjoy, but it didn’t strike a chord with me. Maybe for Christmas, I’ll have to buy him Penguins of Madagascar: Operation Special Delivery so he can enjoy the best of what that series has to offer. I’m fairly certain that’s where the writing team of John Aboud, Michael Colton, Brandon Sawyer, Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell were developing from. I really feel that’s a misstep.
J: You know those times where you can never get quite get into the movie. That is the stage I was in during the entire film. The only upside to this outing for the penguins is the addition of the North Wind team, an interspecies task force dedicated to helping animals who can’t help themselves.
I’ve called it with DreamWork’s Turbo and I’ll call it here, expect DreamWorks to explore the North Wind team with a direct home release or their own TV series. They are just too good of characters to never use again.
Should a new season of Penguins be commissioned, I’m hoping we’ll see more of these daring do-gooders with their high tech gadgets in a crossover with Skipper and his crew or at least rescue our boys from certain doom (Dr. Blowhole). Because when the chips are down and things may look their worst, evil might try to break the penguins but I doubt they’ll be able to break Wind.
3 Stars out of 5