Comic relief in animated movies typically don't translate well to starring roles in their own movie. Most of the time, a studio typically sees profit in some of their movies and try to take the funniest characters from their movie series and try to give them their own film, mostly to unsuccessful results. The most notable example was Pixar's disastrous "Cars 2" which ended up becoming one of my least favorite animated movies of the decade so far. With that said, I did go in nervous to "Penguins of Madagascar". I really liked the Madagascar series due to its very funny humor with some good laughs coming from the penguins. Though I really think that they are good characters, I wasn't sure a movie about them would work out well. Luckily enough, it does have some very funny moments, yet I feel at times that the film is essentially two films combined into one which results in some unbalanced elements. What exactly do I mean, you may ask? Well, I'll explain why.
At first, the film actually did start off very promising. The Penguins, Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private (played by four of DreamWorks own employees, Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, and Conrad Vernon) decide to leave the circus behind, having being driven crazy by that Circus Afro song (which I will admit is some pretty fantastic writing) and break into Fort Knox for not gold or the governments top secrets, but Cheetos. It only gets more complex when they are kidnapped and taken to Venice where it's revealed that an octopus named Dave (John Malkovich) is planning revenge on the penguin race by turning them into horrible creatures due to him always being overlooked by the creatures in his zoos. The penguins escape leading to a thrilling chase with octopi minions only to be rescued by an elite Arctic group known as the North Wind led by a wolf known only as Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch). His agents include a seal named Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), a polar bear named Corporal (Peter Stormare) and a snow owl named Eva (Annet Mahendru). Knowing of the evil secret plan of Dave, the penguins decide to try to stop the plan in order to prevent the extermination of the penguin species.
Right from that synopsis, I can name my biggest problem with the movie. The plot. It's not a bad idea for a plot as I do like the idea of the Penguins going up against an evil octopus as a subplot in a fourth Madagascar movie, but it's a story that just doesn't seem suitable as a main plot. Most of the time I kept expecting Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman to pop up which wasn't a good sign. Speaking of which, let me explain why I think the movie was essentially two films as one. Throughout the movie I felt like the sections involving the Penguins and Dave was part of a failed TV movie and the North Wind aspects were part of a failed feature film idea and were unsuccessfully combined together. Had they had stayed separate, I feel that they would have been very successful on their own, yet put together makes them feel like a convoluted mess. With that said though, the movie is pretty funny at times which did redeem some of the movies weaker moments. As for the animation, it's decent. It's not as incredible as "How to Train Your Dragon 2" which came out the same year, though I do feel that it does stand out with some good cartoony moments. And now, let's talk about the characters. The North Wind characters are fantastic. I love how they take on a very cliched spy team which we have seen been done so many times and actually give it some life. Classified in particular was really funny mainly due to Cumberbatch's great performance. Dave also has some good moments as well and John Malkovich was really funny, though I will admit one aspect of him did drive me a little crazy. His running gag was telling his octopi minions and making some sort of actor pun out of it. Examples include, "Nicholas, cage them", "William, hurt them", "Halle, bury them" and "Elijah, would you hide the evidence". Every time he said something like that, I kept thinking to myself, "Yes, you took the actors names and made a pun out of it. Ha ha ha." It really did get on my nerves.
In a whole, "Penguins of Madagascar" is not a perfect movie due to its story that feels like it should have been split in half and it's animation that's only decent at best, though it's redeemed due to its characters having some funny moments. I do feel like it's more for kids than it is for adults though I don't think it's bad at all.