'Penguins of Madagascar': What the Critics Are Saying

John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom McGrath lead the voice cast in the franchise spinoff directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith

Penguins of Madagascar, out Wednesday and with a voice cast that includes John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom McGrath, Werner Herzog, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon and Christopher Knights, follows the fun foursome of secret agents from the previous Madagascar installments as they finally gets their own feature.

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The 20th Century Fox title, co-directed by Eric Darnell (the three previous Madagascar films) and Simon J. Smith (Bee Movie), is one of many family films hitting the holiday box office this season, and is expected to post a solid five-day gross in the $45 million-$47 million range over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

See what top critics are saying about Penguins of Madagascar:

The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen says, "While there are plenty of madcap antics to fill a feature, all that manic energy ultimately proves to be more exhausting than exhilarating. ... The franchise, which improved noticeably with each installment, fails to advance in its fourth go-round." Its co-directors "admittedly keep the action at a high pitch as the caper ping-pongs from Antarctica to Venice to Shanghai to New York," and "there’s much breaking of wind and blowing of chunks along the way, but there are also some smart visual gags provided by screenwriters John Aboud, Michael Colton and Brandon Sawyer." But "without first establishing a sturdier foundation comprised of more individually developed, relatable core characters, much of the shtick fails to stick."

The New York Times' Ben Kenigsberg notes that it "promises a reasonable share of wit the minute it opens," and although the fourth film "looks like a down-market spinoff, ... the decision to focus on the series’s comic relief has resulted in the loosest and perhaps funniest film of the brand." Additionally, the fact "that Classified’s voice belongs to the ubiquitous Cumberbatch is almost as amusing as any of the jokes. Visually, the movie, which can be watched in pointless 3-D, has little to set it apart, although a few of the mutant-penguin designs are worthy of the Gremlins director, Joe Dante. Still, the lack of originality is offset by sheer silliness, including Classified and Skipper’s Abbott and Costello-style argument over whether there’s a long I in 'diversion.' The word fits the movie."

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USA Today's Claudia Puig gives it two out of four stars, calling the spinoff "limp" with penguins that "come across as charmless and surprisingly interchangeable. ... The animation is hectic, with the action sequences more hyperactive and bombarding than enjoyable, and presented in 3-D to no discernible advantage," while "the ending tries to convey a heartfelt message that looks don't matter and actions are what counts. It's a worthy sentiment, but feels tacked-on, obvious and delivered in a way that falls flat."

New York Daily News' Elizabeth Weitzman calls it "a sequel that improves on its underwhelming predecessors. Granted, it’s no classic, but a sassy script and good-natured voice work from Cumberbatch and Malkovich should keep kids and grownups entertained over the holidays. ... The penguins’ misadventures are amusing, no one’s intelligence is insulted, and everybody will walk out happy."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee