It seems a number of characters from recent animated hits – such as ‘Puss in Boots’ from Shrek 2 (2004) and its sequels – are now stars in their own rights, and as such deserved of their own big screen extravaganzas. The latest one – or ones – to launch out on their own are the loveable black and white quartet from the smash hit film Madagascar (2005) and its follow-ups.
In Penguins of Madagascar (2014) the gang – Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) – are out to save the world and penguin-kind from certain extinction at the hands of Dr Octavius Brine (John Malkovich). Which would be trouble enough for the penguin pals. However, what they didn’t count on was help (or is that hindrance) from the top secret organisation ‘The North Wind’ headed by the super-smooth Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch). The chaos which ensues, and whether or not the Penguins succeed in their aims, is never really in question. It’s how they go about it in directors Eric Darnell and Simon J Smoth’s high octane caper which creates the fun and surprises, making this one of the cleverest and most enjoyable family films to appear in some time.
The world of animated feature films – especially for the lucrative family / children’s market – is a cut-throat business. Hardly a week it seems goes past without another hyperactive – and even the more sedate fairytale interpretations by Disney have some degree of madness about them – mix of crazy characters and even zanier situations, hitting the big screen. So, with a market periodically reaching saturation point, the studios behind the films have to come up with some focus point of originality in order to draw the audiences in.
As pointed out at the start the most profitable way to achieve this is to create a story and characters which could not only potentially run forever – as with the mega-hit Toy Story (1995) – but also contain individuals which could in theory mutate into franchises of their own. In the same way that publishers will seldom option books now from authors unless there is the possibility of a series emerging on the back of the initial book’s success, the subject for an animated feature will be much more appealing if it has the legs to run for several additional films.
Then of course the equally important – and profitable – matter of the film’s potential audience comes in. Young children – who films like Penguins of Madagascar are reputedly aimed at – will seldom attend the cinema on their own. As a result it does the film absolutely no harm if it appeals in some degree to the adult accompanying the said children. Many modern cartoons can be watched on multitudinous levels, with films like the recent Wreck-It Ralph (2012) playing as much on its adult orientated nostalgia, as any straightforward child appeal. Throw in a little subtle innuendo and hey-presto, you have a hit with adults and children alike.
Which brings us neatly to Penguins of Madagascar. Here everything from slick animation – and even sharper dialogue by a host of writers led by John Aboud – makes a cavalcade of loveable and diabolical characters come alive on the screen, in a series of situations both wacky and original. One of the joys of the film is seeing how the penguins – and anyone who happens to cross their path – manage to turn each potentially disastrous predicament to their advantage, resulting in a hilarious and acidly witty comedy.
Penguins of Madagascar is the perfect example of how modern animated features can provide all-round family entertainment, whilst retaining the air of sophisticated individuality required to make them potential future classics.
Genre: Animation, comedy Distributor: Dreamworks Release Date: 5th December 2014 (UK) Rating: PG Director: Eric Darnell, Simon J. Smith Cast: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong