Penguins of Madagascar is an unexpected pleasure, a 3D kids' animated feature that combines a wildly inventive visual style with enough in-jokes and self-reflexive references to keep film- loving adults happy, too. The penguins themselves look very cute, indeed.
The tone is set right at the outset as we hear a crackpot documentary-maker (parodying Werner Herzog in his 2007 documentary Encounters At the End of the World) intone solemnly about the plight of the little birds trying to stay alive on "earth's frozen bottom". In very short order, the four penguins are whisked to Venice, Shanghai and, eventually, on to New York.
Their antagonist is a slimy, self-pitying, shape-shifting octopus called Dave (a whining John Malkovich), who is intensely jealous of the penguins' popularity with the kids. He has re-invented himself as a professor, Dr Octavius Brine, and has a fiendish plan to infect the penguins with a serum that will make them mis-shapen and ugly. Their allies are a group of superheroes led by a very arrogant wolf known only as Agent Classified, voiced in appropriately haughty style by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The film-makers, the same team behind the original Madagascar films, borrow their comic schtick from Top Cat and Sgt. Bilko. They take an enjoyably subversive and inane approach toward their material. This ranks alongside The Lego Movie as one of the liveliest, wittiest animated features in recent years.
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