Spin-offs, eh? It seems like a sure thing: take a popular supporting character and give them own fully-fledged adventure but there can be hidden pitfalls. As the swaggering, cocky never-say-die plot drivers (and frequent deus ex machinas) of the “Madagascar” franchise, the team of Penguins led by were charming and hilarious but really, how hard is it to be popular and loveable when you’re surrounded by a voice cast which prominently features perennially unlikeable stars such as Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett-Smith?
While the antics of the paramilitary penguins have provided solid fare for twenty-minute TV episodes, stretched to a feature length, their shtick gets old quickly and, due to the requirements of the story, they’re made to be less effective than usual, robbing them of much of their badassery.
It doesn’t help that the villain of the piece is an Octopus who is retconned into having been at the Central Park Zoo before the penguins, giving him a something of a motive and a readymade ‘history’ with our heroes, although it’s a history the penguins themselves are oblivious to, as are we the audience.
Add in a gimmicky over-arching elite inter-species task force, “The North Wind” and the whole thing feels very much like a warmed-over rehash of “Despicable Me 2”. The voice cast is pretty good though and do their best with the material at hand. Tom McGrath’s Skipper continues to be a highlight, his sardonic blustering poking fun at the pomposity of the other characters as well as the nonsensical plot contrivances required to keep this whole show on the road. But even the presence of John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch can’t keep this from feeling like a pretty run-of-the-mill direct to DVD cash-in. It’s colourful and chaotic enough to keep little ones amused but slightly older children and the rest of the family will probably be looking for something more substantial.