DIR: Eric Darnell, Simon J. Smith • WRI: John Aboud, Michael Colton, Brandon Sawyer • PRO. Lara Breay, Mark Swift • ED: Nick Kenway • MUS: Lorne Balfe • CAST: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights
Supporting characters often steal films. How often have you wished that you could shunt aside the dullards at the centre of a film and follow some fringe character who rocked up late doors, delivered some dynamite dialogue, made an insipid film sing for a second and exited like a fizzing firework?
It even happens in animation. Now a seasoned veteran of the animation game, I think it’s fair to say that the central quartet of the Madagascar films placated the young ones but any sensible adult was rooting for the manic and inexplicably militarised penguins to show up and blow up some stuff.
Thankfully, studios pay attention to this kind of thing nowadays. Probably in actuality to a degree that would scare me to my naive core but still, we should be grateful to whatever super computer or feedback forum launched ‘Penguins’ at us. Beginning with an inspired bit of mischief involving omnipresent arctic documentary crews, a marooned ship and some nasty seals, the film is a feast for the eyes and could easily cause bellyache in the laughter stakes.
Detouring to Fort Knox for reasons too daft to disseminate any further, the flightless and often witless birds embark on a global tour orchestrated by an unknown enemy known only as Dave. Their romp through Venice pursued by some ominously designed octopi is a real highlight. As is an extended joke about them mistaking a distinctively Asian city for Dublin.
The villain of the piece is voiced by John Malkovich. He’s no stranger to a sound booth but here’s the rub – the directors and writers eke a wonderful vocal performance out of him. It could so easily have been phoned in but it’s clearly treated with a degree of emotive import that elevates everything around it. I warmed less to a super slick bunch of animal spies known as the ‘North Wind’. They play their part but never capture the imagination or the heart the way the penguins do.
How good is this film? Let’s just put it this way – a cracking set piece that represented the film in an earlier trailer – the inflation of a bouncy castle while falling out of a plane – is now a mere footnote.
Now, how does one avoid a ‘p-p-p-pick up a penguin’ reference in a final paragraph? Oh, think I got something. Rather than getting your kid a Penguin book, book Penguins down the
Drat. Didn’t quite work, did it? Ah well, there’s no way the Film Ireland editor will leave that in. We’d both look like idiots and neither of us wants that. Let’s just p-p-p-pray he’s p-p-p-paying attention…
G (See IFCO for details)
Penguins of Madagascar is released 5th December.