Sunday, November 30, 2014

Movie with Abe: Penguins of Madagascar

Penguins of Madagascar
Directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith
Released November 26, 2014

It’s hard to find a standalone film these days. Successful films breed sequels and additional entries, and sometimes they even spin off unrelated films that can subsist on their own. “Penguins of Madagascar,” which sort of follows three “Madagascar” films, was the Thanksgiving movie choice made by my wife and in-laws, and therefore I went into a film in a way I might not usually do: with no knowledge of what came before it. While I may have missed references to this cinematic universe, this film does just fine without any knowledge of what came before it. That said, it’s hardly a universal or must-see movie.

“Penguins of Madagascar,” which might as well just be called “Penguins” since it contains just a passing reference to the country, follows four penguins, Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private, who are transplanted from their native arctic environment and end up facing off against a villain with an inherent hatred for their species, occasionally teaming up with the North Wind, an interspecies spy force. The whole premise is built around the fact that penguins are undeniably cute, and young Private, who is the baby of the group and is seen by his peers as nothing but adorable, is the epitome of that.

Animated features made for children have the considerable task of appealing to the adults who take their children to see them, and not all succeed. This film attempts to achieve a balance by inserting some references to the way in which this universe might possibly be captured on film, showing a documentary crew and using them as the impetus for this adventure, and firing off a few name-related puns in sequence to remind adult audiences that this film is accessible to them too. It’s far from consistent and ends up being uneven at best.

Even as a kid’s film, “Penguins of Madagascar” is not ambitious. The fact that its characters are penguins is inconsequential, and while it adds a bit of cuteness to the story, they may as well be any other animal. The villain, Dr. Octavius Brine, is composed of elements borrowed from other recent animated universes, and his ideas of revenge against the penguins seems as if it has been expressly lifted from more than one preexisting film. Those who love watching penguins talk and explore the world should see this movie; others need not rush to do so.


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