Predictable story, but cuteness, small details lift ‘Penguins of Madagascar’

You can’t go wrong with penguins. Right? Well, “March of the Penguins” was a fascinating real-life documentary, and Bugs Bunny’s Warner Bros. cartoon adventures in which he has to keep a mute penguin out of peril (“8-Ball Bunny” and “Frigid Hare”) were good for laughs.

When it comes to “Penguins of Madagascar,” these critters may be spread a little too thin.

Much like Skrat, the acorn-obsessed saber-toothed squirrel in the “Ice Age” series, the four penguins in the “Madagascar” animated films work better in short, energetic spurts rather than in a feature-length movie.

“Penguins of Madagascar” is a pleasant enough movie, a nice time for the family. Children will enjoy the visual antics of the stars while adults will find occasional amusements in the jokes that youngsters will not understand.

“Penguins” opens with a prelude about how the four creatures got together as kids, led by the Skipper, who entices Kowalski and Rico to rescue a runaway egg that hatches and becomes the fourth in their group, Private.

Years later, this group faces its greatest peril when it encounters Dr. Octavius Brine, also known as Dave, a revenge-minded scientist. The penguins suffer a few setbacks and soon find themselves forced into an uneasy alliance with an undercover group called The North Wind, led by a fox named Classified (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch).

Skipper (Tom McGrath) and his boys are at strategic odds with The North Wind in a typical match of an elite, high-tech unit versus a tight-knit group that relies on its resourcefulness rather than gadgetry. While they have the same foe in Dr. Brine/Dave, the two factions bicker on the methods to bring down the villain.

Character development tends to bog down the story. Skipper finds his leadership questioned while Private (Christopher Knights), although adored by his fellow penguins, is not considered a key player in the attempt to foil Dr. Brine. Classified’s leadership also falters along the way.

The story leads to a predictable conclusion that includes an unlikely hero. It’s a good tale for children. Adults, meanwhile, should stay alert and catch all the humorous little details obviously inserted for their benefit by the writing team of John Aboud, Michael Colton,Brandon Sawyer, Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons — there are plays on celebrity names throughout.

As usual, the visuals are a stunning array of computer-generated animation, a joyride of cuteness throughout.


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