Friday, December 5, 2014

The Penguins of Madagascar Review

What do you expect? It's fun, simple, and worth a good laugh.

True story: originally, this was going to be a review of Dumb and Dumber To. Over Thanksgiving, a friend and I were going to go and see that most likely abysmal movie because reasons. Instead, when we got there, it turns out that the movie was sold out. In comparison to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Dumb and Dumber To was the only movie that was sold out. So we had to make a choice. Should we wait two hours for that movie, or go and watch The Penguins of Madagascar instead? Begrudingly, we bought our tickets and went to our seats, ready for yet another bad kids movie. In actuality, we got a surprisingly good movie. Not high art mind you, but a solid movie.

Our story revolves around four penguins; Skipper, the leader, Kowalski, the brians, Rico, the demolition expert, and Private, the cute one. The four of them are kidnapped by an evil octopus by the name of Dave (played by John Malcovich), and escape from his evil clutches. However, once they find out his plan is to remove the cuteness from every penguin in the world (just roll with it), they take it upon themselves to stop him. However, an actual government organization called the North Wind want to capture Dave as well, so it becomes a race to find and capture Dave. Will the paramilitary group North Wind stop him, or will four little penguins from the Bronx be able to do it?

You know what's something we don't see in movies anymore? Simplicity. It seems to me that every movie is trying to be complex and juggle a ton of different objects at the same time. There's nothing bad with a movie trying to be complex at all, but sometimes, you just want to sit down, watch something easy, and leave the movie with a sense of enjoyment and happiness. Penguins is that movie. Does it try to be anything more than a made for TV movie with a large budget? Of course not, but it still has fun while it can.

In a time of year where every movie is an Oscar movie, seeing a movie about secret agent penguins just fills me with happiness. There isn't racial casting issues from Exodus: Gods and Kings, or the sociopolitical ramifications of The Interview, or even terror from the new Annie movie. This is a movie where penguins dress in lederhosen and smack each other's butts. Excuse while I turn off my cynicism for this movie.

What's even stranger about this movie are the jokes in this movie and how dark/insane they can be for a kids movie. You've got a plethora of dark cynical jokes in this movie that juxtapose the cuteness of the penguins. One scene has Skipper beating up a baby squid in Shanghai (just roll with it) with the baby crying after her beats him. It lasts for only a few seconds, but it's still pretty dark, yet so funny to watch. The penguins themselves are so unlike most other heroes in kids movies that I just have to give them a slow clap for their uniqueness. They're not smart, but they're professional as all hell. It's like watching four James Bonds complete missions in the most cumbersome and insane ways possible. Falling out of a plane? Inflate a bouncy castle to land on!

The penguins steal the show in this movie, but this movie also reminds me why I'm not a fan of DreamWorks. DreamWorks almost always makes their movies very modern with tons of pop culture references and very easy jokes to make. DreamWorks takes the easy way out when making kids movies. Most of their movies don't have interesting characters and instead makes a majority of their characters pop culture spouting machines. They're more focused on trying to be funny and popular with the kids than telling a good story. That's why Disney will almost always be better than DreamWorks in my eyes. Disney wants to tell a story, DreamWorks wants to make you laugh and as I've made it abundantly clear, I love story more than anything else.

So it was certainly a process to re-adapt myself to DreamWorks tropes again. There were odd character designs, a plethora of puns, and very modern lingo and jokes. A running joke of the movie is the penguins love for what are essentially Cheese Doodles and how they will do whatever they can to get them. Coming off of Big Hero 6, where stuff like that was non existent, it sucks that this is what most kids find funny and cool. Call me an old fossil, cause I know I am, but a good story and good characters will outlive jokes any day.

All that aside, I rather enjoyed this movie for what it was. Even though I just got through bemoaning the use of modern jokes and pop culture references this movie does, some of them worked. In particular, I love that the characters can apparently hear the background music and adjust to it accordingly. It's the little things that make this movie fun to watch, like Dave's flexibility as an octopus, or the speed of the animation, or just how deadpan the penguins are in their delivery. This movie is the sum of all of its parts.

On its own, it might not be a memorable movie, but Penguins of Madagascar does just enough right for me to walk out of the theatre happy. I chuckled a lot, felt warm from a decent amount of cuteness, and saw some gold old fashioned dark humor. There was even a few jokes that made absolutely no sense, yet still worked for just how ludicrous they were. I know that this review may be a tad short because of it, but that's the thing. While I don't think this is a terrible movie, it just doesn't do anything worth discussing at depth. This is your standard DreamWorks movie. As soon as I say that, you know exactly what to expect from it and what you're getting yourself into.

Penguins of Madagascar is like the Cheese Doodles that its characters love so much. It's not particularly healthy for you, but it still tastes good. It provides sustenance, but you'll be hungry and looking for something more substantial to eat later. Still, it's good for a quick bite to eat and I'll still get a large bag of it while I'm relaxing. This movie isn't high art. It isn't meant to be high art. It's a movie where the phrase "Nicholas, cage them!" is uttered. If you laughed at that one line, then you'll know if this movie is right for you. If not, then you'll move along and be none the wiser. As it stands, I had a fun time watching this movie, but I'm not eager to jump back into the DreamWorks realm anytime soon.


Oh, and the next DreamWorks movie, Home, looks to be standard DreamWorks fair. And by that I  mean awful and incredibly white. Brace yourself...

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