Review of "Penguins of Madagascar (DVD)"

published 16/05/2017 | afy9mab
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All of my DVD reviews are film only, so do not include pricing information. If you have time, please read and rate my Batman V Superman review.
Super
Pro A ridiculous number of laughs.
Cons Not much plot or character development.
exceptional
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"P-p-pick Up a Madcap Madagascar Penguin"

FILM ONLY REVIEW

Daring action penguins Skipper, Rico, Kowalski and Private join forces with super-secret spy organisation The North Wind. Together they must battle the evil Doctor Octavius Brine, who threatens to destroy the world as we know it.

I’m not a fan of the “Madagascar” films, seeing them more as a repository for irritating characters than a successful kids’ movie franchise. That being said, I have always been entertained by the antics of the gung-ho action penguins. Consequently, I went into this movie with very modest expectations.

Director Eric Darnell has been with the franchise since the very first “Madagascar” film, but co-director Simon J Smith is a newcomer to the series, which may be why the production feels fresh, if not entirely new.

Dreamworks Animation’s visual style may lack the fine detail of competitors such as Disney and Pixar, but it is distinctive, particularly where the “Madagascar” movies are concerned. the animators have created a colourful world populated by highly stylised characters. The players come in all different shapes and sizes, each with their own look and personality, but there are some commonalities between them. Their design owes more to geometry than nature. Curves and straight lines are exaggerated so some creatures have squared-off paws and angular faces, while others have almost spherical heads. Their faces are generally expressive, although they tend to have glassy eyes and spongy mouth movements, which limits their range a little. The players are also wilfully asymmetrical and have weirdly human-looking teeth. The fur textures look oddly artificial, as though they are based on cuddly toys rather than actual animals. The one major exception is the penguins, who have beautifully realised glossy feathers, which catch the light in realistic ways. The octopuses are also marvellously rendered. They come in an assortment of candy colours, moving in a fluid and comical fashion and expressing themselves through eye-rolling, wild gesticulation and ear/funnel flapping (not that they have much choice, as their leader appears to be the only one with a mouth). The human characters tend to have over-sized, misshapen heads and spindly limbs. The huge range of locations allow the animators to play with a variety of background textures, weather conditions and lighting states, which help to create the sense of a complete world. The reflective water and ice are particularly nicely observed.

The storytelling definitely favours laughs over plot. The story is slight to the point of negligible and the characters serve only to act as stooges for the humour. But the pace is so manic throughout that you don’t have the chance to notice the lack of narrative. The film has the highest gag ratio of almost any movie I have ever seen. The jokes come so thick and fast that there is barely time to catch your breath between them, which is how one of my friends nearly came to choke to death on his popcorn (don’t worry – he survived!). But the thing that amazed and delighted me most was the film’s near-constant ability to surprise me. I was repeatedly blindsided by unexpected gags, which very rarely happens to me. This is thanks largely to note-perfect comic timing and a flair for anarchic, absurdist humour that I had previously only seen in Looney Tunes cartoons. The assortment of character and situation comedy, sight gags, one-liners, running jokes and slapstick means there is something for pretty much everyone. Many of the gags work on a number of levels, so older viewers will be laughing at something different to younger audience members. Admittedly, the film loses much of the element of surprise in subsequent viewings, but there is still plenty to enjoy. The tone is resolutely silly and the brief ninety-two minute running-time flew by for me.

The screenplay by Michael Colton, John Aboud and Brandon Sawyer is a pretty basic spy movie parody. The heroes have to steal a scientific macguffin from an evil genius and join forces with the super-slick professional spy organisation The North Wind, in order to thwart the baddie’s plan to destroy the world as we know it. And that is pretty much it. However, the plot is dressed up with an astonishing array of silly, smart, strange and surprising jokes. There are some hilarious takes on big-budget action sequences, too. A chase through Venice is hands-down one of the funniest things I have seen for years, while an action set-piece that sees the penguins freefalling from a plane is ingeniously daft. A subplot involving youngest team member Private’s bid to be seen as more than the group’s mascot felt clumsy to me. However, it will probably resonate more with younger viewers, who can relate to his predicament.

The characterisation plays with spy movie stereotypes. The twist is that no-one is as cool, capable or infallible as they believe themselves to be. Skipper is written as a self-important buffoon whose abilities lag far behind his can-do attitude and bravado. But he always manages to succeed in spite of himself. He is abetted by the smooth-voiced Kowalski, who is the apparent brains of the operation and Rico, the near-mute muscle of the group, whose special skill is the ability to swallow and regurgitate just about anything on command. Rounding out the team is Private, the cutesy mascot determined to prove himself. Evil octopus Dave is a standard issue megalomaniacal movie villain with a plot to take over the world. Secret organisation The North Wind is headed by suave but arrogant super-spy Agent Classified. He is assisted by deceptively fluffy seal cub weapons expert Short Fuse, the surprisingly soft-hearted polar bear Corporal and the seductive snowy owl (and token female) Eva. The dialogue is snappy, silly and sometimes very smart.

The voice cast is pretty much pitch-perfect. Tom McGrath gives Skipper a great deal of vocal swagger, so he comes across as a penguin with complete self-confidence and zero self-awareness. Chris Miller is downbeat and authoritative as the voice of Kowalski, managing to deadpan his way through any line. Christopher Knights sounds bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (and permanently on the verge of adolescence) as Private. Meanwhile Conrad Vernon provides a huge range of grunts, gurgles, retches and chortles as the possibly unhinged Rico. John Malkovich is alternately whiny and maniacal as Dave the octopus. Benedict Cumberbatch is smug as the voice of Agent Classified. Ken Jeong is squeaky as Short Fuse, Peter Stormare sounds permanently befuddled as Corporal and Annet Mahendru is husky as sole female Eva.

The original music by Lorne Balfe features lots of knowingly cheesy spy movie themes chock-a-block with self-important brass, melodramatic strings, tolling chimes, blowsy woodwinds, epic choruses, heavy-handed piano, sneaky flutes and xylophone and hectic bongos. There are also Bondian bass guitar riffs and occasional harp and Hammond organ flourishes. The other soundtrack choices include a rather unexpected turn from Pitbull called “Celebrate”. In general, the music is a good match to the rest of the production.

I loved “Penguins of Madagascar” because it completely exceeded my expectations and made me laugh like an absolute loon. I thought the direction was snappy and the animation was inventive. I found the writing hilarious and thought that the voice performances were very well matched to the overall style of the production. I particularly enjoyed it because it constantly surprised me. if you have kids under the age of ten or you like your animation anarchic, multi-layered and/or extremely silly, I’d definitely give it a whirl.


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Comments on this review

  • mikemelmak published 21/05/2017
    Flipping awesome! I watched this over the weekend and really enjoyed it. I too chuckled at all the adult " in-jokes " .
  • chrisandmark_is_here published 18/05/2017
    Nicely done x
  • mousy86 published 18/05/2017
    Great review x
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Product Information : Penguins of Madagascar (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

DVD Region: DVD

Production Year: 2014

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Darnell, Eric

EAN: 5039036072250

Classification: Universal

Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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Listed on Ciao since: 15/05/2017