“The Penguins of Madagascar” is the punniest movie of the year. It never met a pun it didn’t like and these penguins give The Marx Brothers a run for their money in the word play department. Based on spin off characters from the “Madagascar” series, these shifty, flightless birds soar in a movie that is more entertaining than the films that introduced us to them.
Skipper (voice of Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) are penguins on a mission. Dr. Octavius Brine, (voice of John Malkovich) is an octopodian evil genius on a mission to get revenge on a certain quartet of birds for a perceived slight. To save themselves, and perhaps all of penguin-kind, Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private reluctantly team with an animal undercover organization known as The North Wind. Led by the suave wolf Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch) they aim to aid the penguins, but will the high tech spies be more of a hindrance than help?
“The Penguins of Madagascar” has a lot in common with other big screen animated entertainment for children. It is paced at the speed of light, has several frenetic action scenes and seems tailor made to inspire a run on cute stuffed toys at Movies ‘R’ Us. The thing that sets it apart from its animated cousins is the spirit of anarchy in its casting, story choices and even the barrage of puns.
How many kid’s movies feature a cameo by the sublimely surreal director Werner Herzog? Can you name another children’s flick where a character says, “You didn’t have a family and we’re all going to die,” to a newborn? Then there are the puns. They come fast and furious, usually in the form of an off hand comment. The movie’s best running gag involves working movie star names into Dr. Brine’s instructions to his minions. “Nicholas! Cage those penguins!” It’s silly and by the time he gets to Elijah Wood, Drew Barrymore and Kevin Bacon, also hilarious.
“The Penguins of Madagascar” is good, zany fun. No lessons will be learned, no morals taught, nothing gained but a good time at the movies.