We open with an Antarctica-set prologue that shows how the quartet of Madagascar penguins first assembled, with Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), and Rico (Conrad Vernon) rescuing a newborn penguin from harm’s way. Leopard seals (“nature’s snakes,” as one of the penguins amusingly calls them) are about to devour the egg when a baby penguin the trio names Private (Christopher Knights) is born. The story flashes forward a number of years later, when the penguins are older (if not wiser) and the events pick up after their previous outing in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.
Much of the fun in Penguins comes in the form of an evil-minded octopus named Dave (John Malkovich), who seeks revenge against the penguins for being a more popular attraction than he when they all resided in the same zoo. Malkovich has a field day with his dementedly hilarious line readings. Also fun is the North Wind task force, led by a wolf known as Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch). The elite organization—which also includes Corporal the polar bear (Peter Stormare), Eva the owl (Annet Mahendru), and Short Fuse the seal (Ken Jeong)—assists animals who supposedly cannot help themselves. This would seemingly include our intrepid quartet of penguins.
Though Penguins of Madagascar at times trips over itself in an overly convoluted plot, its barrage of sight gags, puns, and globe-hopping adventure is never dull. As co-directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith, Penguins generally benefits from a go-go-go, faster-faster-faster style. Its dizzying pace is sure to keep younger viewers (and anyone with a short-attention span) riveted.
For the Blu-ray presentation, 20th Century Fox has outdone themselves with a high definition transfer that simply dazzles. The always inventive animation is showcased in hyper-textural detail, with every dusting of orange Cheezy Dibble powder visible down to the last grain. Seriously, from a visual standpoint this offers a bevy of candy-colored vividness. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio is no less spectacular, with everything from Lorne Balfe’s score to every last surround effect blending to create a multi-layered field of sonic delight.
As might be expected of a kid/family-oriented release, the special features package is a little light on substance. At least the youngsters will have a couple of plastic “Poppin’ Penguin” toys to play with, should they opt for the “Spring Gift Pack.” There are a few short featurettes (under five minutes each), including the “Top Secret Guide to Becoming an Elite Agent” and “Global Flight Plan.” There are a couple of music videos (“He is Dave,” Pitbull’s “Celebrate”) and a dance routine (“Do the Penguin Shake with Twitch”). There are also a few odds and ends, including a deleted scene and a cute commercial for the penguins’ junk food of choice, Cheezy Dibbles.
Fox’s Blu-ray package also contains a standard DVD and Digital Copy download. Penguins of Madagascar may not be a classic for the ages, but it delivers a high energy wallop of fun entertainment that likely provide high replay value for kids and animation lovers.