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Penguins Of Madagascar (2014)

Even the biggest fan of DreamWorks Animation would probably have to concede that the Madagascar films are far from their best works. Arguably the biggest problem the films really have is that the central characters of the franchise are overshadowed by the side characters, such as the Sacha Baron Cohen voiced King Julien and most obviously by the Penguins. Following success on the small screen, the monochrome menaces have finally broken out on their own to get their own movie, with the straightforwardly titled Penguins Of Madagascar.

Much as with this Summer's Minions movie though, the question has to be asked are these traditional supporting players strong enough to carry a movie on their own? The characters have typically been rather one-dimensional, with much of their appeal relating to penguins' innate cuteness, contrasting nicely with their existence as a commando-style military unit. Albeit not always a terribly effective one. Luckily, the answer to the question, in this case, is "yes...", just about.

For the most part the film-makers adopt a policy of "if it ain't broke don't fix it", meaning these are the same old penguins seen in their earlier appearances. The plot sees the feathered foursome reluctantly team up with a spy agency named  The North Wind- headed up by an Arctic Wolf, smoothly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch- to stop the villainous Octopus Dr Octavius Brine.   

This spy-movie set-up allows the film-makers to have some fun with some Bond style action and allows for some amusing set-pieces. The penguins' encounters with the agents of North Wind (which also include a Polar Bear, an owl and a tiny but formidable seal) also results in some entertaining moments.

In animation terms, the film is consistent with the rest of the Madagascar franchise. The characters are simple and stylised, although the animation around them has improved with each film. All the same, knowing that the studio is capable of so much more (see the How To Train Your Dragon films),  it can't help but be a bit disappointing in comparison.

Occasionally the film over-stretches itself, by trying to add depth to the characters. Its attempts to play up the family dynamic mainly fall flat on its face. In these scenes they fail to realise we don't need to know their origin story, we just want to see them go on wacky missions and have fun. Luckily, it doesn't spend too much time on this.

The film is funny, if never hilarious (although your mileage may vary) with both dialogue and visual gags hitting more often than not. Running gags are a mixed bag- the film seems to think the idea that the villain is called Dave is much funnier than we did for starters.

The usual voice-cast is as good as ever, with some game support offered by newcomers Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong and best of all, John Malkovich, clearly enjoying himself as the villainous Brine (aka Dave The Octopus).

The film also loses its way somewhat in the climax- which bears a distinct (but presumably coincidental) resemblance to the plot of Despicable Me 2. Other than though it remains enjoyable enough for the most part, if nothing earth-shattering. But then again how could we ever dislike a film that starts with a cameo from Werner Herzog?

PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital. Buy from Amazon.  or Amazon UK