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Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - ON STAGE -

IRDS of a feather som­er­sault, karate kick and bicker to­gether in Eric Dar­nell and Si­mon Smith’s mis­fir­ing com­puter-an­i­mated spin-off from the Mada­gas­car films.

Fre­netic and fast-paced, Pen­guins Of Mada­gas­car ini­tially sketches the back story of the four plucky Antarc­tic crit­ters with a beak for ad­ven­ture through the lens of a doc­u­men­tary film crew, who are keen to ob­serve the flight­less birds in their treach­er­ous nat­u­ral habi­tat.

The script soon fast-for­wards to the con­clu­sion of Mada­gas­car 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and lit­er­ally blasts the pen­guins into an out­landish spy ca­per re­plete with a menagerie of an­i­mal co-stars that should be a mer­chan­diser’s dream this Christ­mas.

The colour-sat­u­rated an­i­ma­tion is a feast for the eyes and there are a few neat visual gags, such as the pen­guins’ novel ap­proach to nav­i­gat­ing a ze­bra cross­ing un­de­tected.

How­ever, the four lead char­ac­ters, who are bound­lessly charm­ing in small doses as side­kicks, grate slightly as he­roes of their own half-baked story.

Hope­fully the adorable Min­ions

Jfrom the De­spi­ca­ble Me se­ries will dodge a sim­i­lar fate when they grad­u­ate to the lime­light in a self-ti­tled fea­ture next sum­mer.

Skip­per (voiced by Tom McGrath) leads a crack squad com­pris­ing Kowal­ski (Chris Miller), Rico (Con­rad Ver­non) and Pri­vate (Christo­pher Knights) on a dar­ing mis­sion to break into Fort Knox in search of trea­sure: a lu­mi­nous orange snack called Cheezy Dib­bles.

From the off­set, goof­ball Pri­vate is iden­ti­fied as the black pen­guin of the op­er­a­tion.

“He’s sort of our sec­re­tary-slash­mas­cot,” ob­serves Skip­per.

The hunt for Cheezy Dib­bles leads the pen­guins into the clutches of ne­far­i­ous oc­to­pus Dr Oc­tavius Brine (John Malkovich), who in­tends to take over the world us­ing his mu­ta­tion serum.

Thank­fully, Skip­per and co es­cape and a sub­se­quent chase with hench-oc­topi along the canals of Venice leads the pen­guins into the company of a grey wolf called Clas­si­fied (Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch), who works for an elite in­ter-species task force known as North Wind.

Fel­low agents in­clude harp seal de­mo­li­tions ex­pert Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), snowy owl in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst Eva (An­net Ma­hen­dru) and plucky po­lar bear Cor­po­ral (Peter Stor­mare).

The un­likely he­roes join forces to de­feat their ten­ta­cled arch-neme­sis, but this col­lab­o­ra­tion will amount to noth­ing un­less Skip­per al­lows Pri­vate to dis­cover the hero within.

Pen­guins Of Mada­gas­car ex­hibits a sim­i­lar lack of in­ven­tion as the films which gave birth to Skip­per, Kowal­ski, Rico and Pri­vate.

Brine’s master plan for global dom­i­na­tion bears an un­canny re­sem­blance to events in De­spi­ca­ble Me 2 and the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage of tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance has been preached count­less times be­fore.

“If we’ve learned any­thing on this de­light­ful ad­ven­ture, it’s that looks don’t mat­ter. It’s what you do that counts,” de­clares Skip­per.

A run­ning joke in­volv­ing celebrity names in one character’s di­a­logue is a cute flour­ish, but cer­tainly not enough for th­ese pen­guins to defy evo­lu­tion and ef­fort­lessly take flight.

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