Cracking jokes keep th­ese bird­brains fly­ing high

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

PEN­GUINS OF MADA­GAS­CAR ★★★ Di­rected by Si­mon J Smith, Eric Dar­nell. Voices of Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Con­rad Ver­non, Christo­pher Knights, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, John Malkovich, Werner Her­zog G cert, gen­eral re­lease, 91 min The re­lease of this very funny an­i­ma­tion gives us a chance to pon­der the un­likely his­tory of the Mada­gas­car fran­chise. The orig­i­nal film passed the time per­fectly de­cently, thanks to solid support from Sacha Baron Co­hen’s amus­ing Lemur. The first se­quel was pre­dictably aw­ful, but Mada­gas­car 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – fea­tur­ing a script co-writ­ten by Noah Baum­bach – proved to be the fun­ni­est of the tril­ogy.

That’s right. The di­rec­tor of Margot at the Wed­ding and Frances Ha helped write the third film in that car­toon fran­chise about the ner­vous gi­raffe and the vain­glo­ri­ous

Beak view­ing: Pen­guins of

Mada­gas­car

lion. Ha! What next? Are they go­ing to get Michael Haneke on board for the pen­guin-cen­tred spin-off? Ha ha.

No, it’s Werner Her­zog ac­tu­ally. The leg­endary Ger­man di­rec­tor, tak­ing amus­ing aim at his own vo­cal per­sona, turns up as the voice of a doc­u­men­tary film-maker in the hi­lar­i­ous open­ing se­quence. Here we learn how the four pen­guins es­caped Antarc­tica to be­come brave cit­i­zens of the world.

In the cur­rent project, they find them­selves team­ing up with a cadre of an­i­mal se­cret agents, led by Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch’s ar­ro­gant gray wolf, to frus­trate the evil plans of John Malkovich’s emotionally stunted oc­to­pus.

Pen­guins of Mada­gas­car is a spin-off of a TV se­ries that span off from the film se­quence, and it has all the throw­away qual­ity of such an en­ter­prise. The an­i­ma­tion is good enough but never re­mark­able. The story is sat­is­fac­tory, if short on imag­i­na­tion. But the jokes are mag­nif­i­cent through­out.

A run­ning gag that makes puns of celebri­ties’ names is par­tic­u­larly fe­cund. “Ni­co­las, Cage them!” and so forth. Price­less.

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