It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The scene-stealing penguins from the “Madagascar” franchise get their own movie in the appropriately titled “Penguins of Madagascar.”
One would think a little of these crazy creatures would go a long way. And indeed, this family-friendly animated comedy from co-directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith is predicated on a single joke: the idea that these overconfident penguins—who fancy themselves as super spies—are completely bumbling and inept, yet they manage to wriggle out of every tricky situation not only to survive but thrive and save the day.
But the pacing is so zany, the jokes are so rapid-fire and the sight gags are so inspired that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the infectious energy of it all. The script (credited to John Aboud, Michael Colton and Brandon Sawyer) finds enough avenues into that one joke to make the premise seem, if not consistently fresh, at least enjoyable. And the formidable voice cast, featuring John Malkovich and the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch, takes this silly work absolutely seriously, and that’s one of the most amusing bits of all.
“Penguins of Madagascar” serves as both an origin story and a spin-off, as it follows these adorable animals on an adventure of their own. (The zoo animals from the original series, voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith, are nowhere to be found.) We begin in Antarctica, where a long line of penguins is waddling across the merciless, snowy terrain to nowhere, because (as even they acknowledge) they’re not allowed to think for themselves. This is just what they do—and what the documentary crews expect them to do, in a knowing jab at the over-saturation of penguin-related properties over the past decade or so.