REVIEW: Penguins of Madagascar

21 07 2015

As far as I can tell, 2016’s “Sausage Party” (written by the people who gave us “Superbad” and “This Is The End“) can lay claim to the title of the first computer animated movie for adults.  While that could stand up to truth in advertising claims, I would like to humbly float the suggestion that DreamWorks Animation designed their “Penguins of Madagascar” film to appeal primarily to older audiences, even as it targeted younger crowds with its marketing.

These kinds of movies often get slapped with the moniker of “kids’ movies,” which is partially a misnomer.  They are really “family movies,” at least when released theatrically, because children lack the physical or financial means to attend on their own.  They must drag along their parents or some other generous benefactor who holds the keys to the car and the strings to the wallet.

Many family films, particularly ones made by DreamWorks, acknowledge that oft-forgotten half of the audience with clever jokes designed to fly way over the heads of kids in the crowd.  They started in the “Shrek” series, started to push the boundaries with “Puss in Boots,” and have now reached a glorious zenith in “Penguins of Madagascar.”  The kids have the TV series on Nickelodeon and Netflix; the grown-ups have this movie.

Had I been seven years old and sitting in the crowd with my parents, I would probably feel a slight resentment towards “Penguins of Madagascar.”  After all, why should they get to laugh more than me?  Sure, the film has a fair share of child-appealing antics like slapstick comedy and general silliness.


But the vast majority of the humor comes from well-crafted jokes at the sophistication level of a sitcom like “Parks & Recreation” or a film like the “Jump Street” series.  They are funny in their own right, sure, yet any viewer of a certain sophistication finds the laugh amplified by the ability to appreciate just how much work it takes to think up the witty line. The repertoire of “Penguins of Madagascar” goes farther than the “Shrek” franchise’s reliance on pop culture references, branching out into ingenious wordplay and uproarious non-sequiturs.

Fans of “Sherlock” will also delight in watching Benedict Cumberbatch, distilling his persona into a wolf known only as “Classified,” get all his buttons pushed by the pontificating penguins.  The joys of John Malkovich as a cartoon villain, an octopus who wants to destroy all the penguins out of jealousy for their cuteness, prove less integral to the film, though his presence is still much appreciated.  When most (non-Pixar) animated films these days resemble “Minions” in shameless pandering to the lowest common denominator, to simply receive recognition as a shareholder feels momentous.  Actually being the primary audience, more or less, amounts to something radical – and awesome. B+ / 3stars



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