Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

Rating: C+

Dir: Eric Darnell + Simon J. Smith
Star (voice): Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch

Perhaps the most amusing of characters in the Madagascar movies make their way into their own feature, by way of a TV series. They might have been better off sticking on television, since the delirious insanity which works for 20 minutes, comes over as hyper and suffering from ADD at feature length. Make no mistake, I probably laughed louder than at any other feature I’ve seen this year. Just not longer. The plot concerns evil genius Dave the octopus (Malkovich) who, tired of being perpetually upstaged by cute penguins, has developed a “Medusa Serum” that will turn them into monsters, and is now kidnapping the world’s supply of captive, flightless Antarctic avians, intending to release his monstrous creations on the streets of New York. As you do.

It’s up the to brave foursome, under the questionable leadership of Skipper (McGrath), to stop him. Well, them and the North Wind, an elite trans-species squad led by Classified (Cumberbatch), who are also out to foil Dave’s diabolical plan, although are as much help as hindrance, despite their technological superiority. There are moments of sheer genius here, such as the use of Werner Herzog as a documentary film-maker, whose appropriateness will sail wildly over the head of the kid audience. Its these moments where the genius present is most apparent, or the banter between Skipper and Classified over the pronunciation of the word “diversion.”

However, it’s a lazy genius, that apparently gets easily tired of the effort needed, and soon devolves back into pratfalls and whizzy abuse of 3D effects. The entire “North Wind” squad is almost entirely superfluous, existing solely for merchandising purposes, and it’s a shame, since there are times when the film is brilliantly smart, such as Dave’s minions triggering dry namechecks of Hollywood superstars, or the tacit acknowledgement that I Like to Move It is one of the worst ear-worms from the past decade. However, even at barely 80 minutes before the end credits roll, it strays perilously close to outstaying its welcome. Penguins, it appears, are better appreciated in short, sharp bursts than over a long waddle.