The cuteness of penguins arrived on the world stage in 2005, when Morgan Freeman voiced the documentary “March of the Penguins.” A year later, we had cute tap-dancing penguins in “Happy Feet.” (Penguins had become hot). Then, the “Madagascar” cartoon series needed to have some penguins too.
Those penguins stole scenes from the lion-zebra-hippo-giraffe quartet, so now there’s the inevitable spinoff of minor players getting their own spotlight, and we have “Penguins of Madagascar.” An origins story.
Penguins are still hot. Hollywood is milking penguin cuteness for all its worth.
So we’re in Antarctica! Look! Long lines of penguins! Doing that marching thing that we know about from “March of the Penguins.”
Oh, wait, a documentary is even being filmed! This is good; they got legendary director Werner Herzog to lend “authenticity” (and silliness) in the form of his heavy German accent, voicing a pretend documentary filmmaker. It’s a similar kind of funny as when “Saturday Night Live” had Jesse Jackson read “Green Eggs and Ham” onstage, wearing a suit.
Speaking of eggs, some penguin’s egg goes on the lam, rolling down snowy bluffs and careening off icebergs. The juvenile penguin trio of Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), and Rico (Conrad Vernon) do a sort of Three Musketeers “All-for-one-and-one-for-all” type mission-statement (something about fearlessness) and go rescue that egg from leopard seals and such.
The egg hatches into a sort of d’Artagnan fourth member, Private (Christopher Knights).
Well, the fearsome foursome end up in a circus, bust out of it, break into Fort Knox, and do all manner of adventurous things. But mainly they think they’re an elite, paramilitary spy unit, and the entire movie spoofs spy lingo. And their favorite fictitious fast-food is Cheezy Dibbles.
So inside a Cheezy Dibbles vending machine (in Fort Knox), they find a big purple octopus! This is Dr. Octavius Brine, or rather, “Dave,” as he’s normally known. (John Malkovich).
They’ve got a history, the penguins and Dave. Turns out, when they were tiny tots at the Central Park Zoo, they stole Dave’s zoo crowd octopus-love with their baby penguin cuteness. Dave never got over it.
Because of them, Dave was shunned by crowds, and now Dave has issues and grudges, and wants revenge. Dave wants to blast penguins with green goop that will turn them into ugly freaks. They will get no penguin-love. Dave will get all his love back.
But the penguins aren’t having any goop. And so there’s escaping and chasing about the globe, from Antarctica to Venice, Shanghai, New York, and back.
It all moves so fast! You get really tired watching it! Maybe not your kids. Maybe not the ones under the age of 10.
While it’s all very hyperactive, frantic, and never lets up, it’s also generic and totally lacks danger (it’s a tiny tots ‘toon). So you, parent, will likely tune out, turn off, and drop out.
These penguins aren’t nearly as cute as the ones in “Happy Feet.” They’re all more or less off-putting and sappy. Posturing windbag Skipper is downright annoying. To Private: “Happy ding-dong birthday, ya little scamp!” Gah.
But this movie can babysit your kids! And as the reviewer often recommends in regards to movies such as this, a good adult nap in a cineplex is an awesome thing. Just keep your kids away from anything at the concession stand that looks remotely like a Cheezy Dibble.
‘Penguins of Madagascar’
Directors: Eric Darnell, Simon J. Smith
Starring: John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom McGrath, Christopher Knights, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, Peter Stormare, Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Release date: Nov. 26
For kids: 3 stars out of 5
1.5 stars out of 5