Quality: This score indicates entertainment value.
0 stars is horrible (think “Cars 2”), while 5 stars is spectacular (think “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “Dead Poets Society”).
Political: This score addresses political messaging.
0 stars is aggressively anti-Conservative (think “Cars 2” or anything from Michael Moore), while 5 stars is highly pro-Conservative (think “Atlas Shrugged” or “Team America”). 3 stars is apolitical.
Moral/Religious (M/R): This score addresses moral and religious messaging.
0 stars is either intensely immoral (think “Team America”) or all-out, needless assault on Christianity (think “Paul” or “The Lego Movie”). 5 stars is either great moral messaging (think “Kung Fu Panda” and “The Blind Side”) or highly pro-Christian (think the “Narnia” movies and the less intentional, “The Matrix”). 3 stars is inoffensive either way.
Quality – 3 stars, Political – 4.5 stars, M/R – 3 stars
This sound will jar millions of moms and dads awake on Thanksgiving morning. With relentless exuberance, the nation’s little scamps will jolt exhausted parents from hours of neglecting them. These kids will be eager. They will be bouncy. They will be insanely high-pitched. And I relate, for I feel as they do, having woken my wife the same way at 3am this morning.
What can I say? Penguins—a species for which God has yet to find a purpose—are adorable. They’re funny looking. And combining madcap antics with high tech animation, “Penguins of Madagascar” launches the holidays with a blend of slapstick humor and action—leaving me in cinematic heaven. I needed this. Still bubbly on my way to the theatre, I even rolled down my windows and sang “Mony Mony”—inviting other drivers and passersby to sing along. Several lacked holiday spirit, however, and opened fire.
Didn’t matter—they couldn’t steal my buzz. I skipped into the theatre.
The movie itself exhibits predictable, formulaic style, solid quality, and surprising content—more on that later. Chronicling the lives of four penguins from the “Madagascar” movies, this spinoff serves as an origins story for Skipper (the leader), Kowalski (the brains), Rico (the eating machine who never digests), and Private (the shy youngster craving a role on the team). Fittingly, the movie begins with a mock documentary. Filming penguins in their icy habitat, “Penguins” soon blossoms into a globe-spanning battle of penguin versus evil.
Along the way, the flightless fowls join an elite team of super spies called The North Wind. Their leader is Agent “Classified” (his true identity is top secret), a dashing hound wonderfully voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. With his highly trained unit, “Classified” aids the penguins in their fight to stop Dr. Octavius Brine, an evil octopus voiced by John Malkovich. Dynamic as always, Malkovich shines, though his character gets a bit old with constant puns.
And now for the startling content. Brine’s wrath burns against penguins because their cuteness has stolen his limelight at countless zoos. Plotting revenge, Brine develops a ray gun that makes cute creatures into un-cute monsters, never to be loved again. This won’t raise his cuteness—Brine admits as much—but at least it will bring penguins down.
See where this is going? While not preaching politics, “Penguins of Madagascar” is a very conservative film. Not only does the villain seek to punish success, but a few lines in this movie craft an almost Tea Party mood. One zinger chides the “nanny state” for pushing healthy snacks—not hard to see where that one’s aimed—and another mocks French tax policies. Nothing leans left; not a thing (though there's a musical number where they play slappy-butt, for what that's worth). I honestly didn’t see this coming.
Is “Penguins of Madagascar” great? No, but it’s pretty good. Though funny for the first hour, the frenetic tempo lacks enough quiet moments to highlight the action and gags. It’s like driving 80 mph for sixty minutes—you soon feel like you’re driving 30. For the final half hour, “Penguins” feels slowed by its zany plotline and frantic pace, and kids go home not treasuring the experience.
But they still have a good time. It’s worth getting the parents out of bed.