In the three blockbuster Madagascar films, four mischievous penguins have provided doses of comic relief that have reliably spiced up the action. As the title suggests, Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private now have their own showcase, and their globe-trotting solo adventure unfolds like an avalanche of A.D.D action. Whereas Pixar’s best films have traditionally been framed by finely-tuned plot and character that target audiences of all ages, DreamWorks Animation’s Penguins of Madagascar aims primarily for the kiddies, racing from one frenetic action sequence to another like some haywire Walter Lantz cartoon.
The thin plot involves the penguin quartet being pursued by a vengeful octopus (John Malkovich) who hates the cute and cuddly birds that stole his spotlight at a multitude of zoos and aquariums before he dedicated his life to evil. He’s built a special weapon that can transform the beloved black and white creatures into grotesque mutants, and when the four stumble into a trap baited with cheese-puffs, they have to rely on a secret-intelligence unit led by a by-the-book gray wolf voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. The spycraft elements, combined with the promotion of silly sideshow characters—not unlike Mater or the Minions—will make adults feel like they’re watching a poor-man’s Cars or Despicable Me sequel. But kids might be laughing too hard to care. Still, you wish that orange cheese-puff dust wasn’t such a strong metaphor for the nutritional value of the entire film. C-