Monday, December 01, 2014

Penguins of Madagascar

Folks, 10am is kind of early for a film screening. For evidence, I submit this screening of Penguins of Madagascar, which played to me and me alone. Even families which could have saved twenty bucks by going to this showtime rather than a 1:05 one didn't make it, which is okay, because the concession stand for this part of the theater wasn't open yet. It was early.

Which is kind of a bummer; I kind of like getting a sense of what works for kids in these movies, whether I'm going to write about them or not. Sure, they probably wouldn't laugh at the Werner Herzog appearance - maybe nobody but those who saw Encounters at the End of the World would - but I'm curious as to what would hit.

On the other hand, there were some pretty good previews before the movie. I can't say I'm terribly enamored of the idea that King Julien is also getting a spin-off series on Netflix (worth noting: Sacha Baron Cohen isn't signed on), but it's not for me anyway. I find myself very conflicted on Peter Pan prequel Pan - on the one hand, origins nobody really cares about, later enemies starting out as friends, apparent chosen ones, and so on, are not things I'm a fan of, and Rooney Mara playing Tiger Lily seems like an unnavigable politically incorrect minefield. On the other, it looks great and Joe Wright is directing it, generally a good thing.

On the other hand, I'm finding myself warming up to Paddington a bit more; maybe I just want to see Nicole Kidman as an evil taxidermist. And the trailer for DreamWorks Animation's next animated one, Home, suggests that it will look amazing even by their high standards.

And then, last but certainly not least... Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

It's weird; by the time I actually saw it, on Sunday - after it had been officially released on Friday and leaked a day or two earlier - it seemed like everybody had already been talking about it forever, with frame-by-frame breakdowns and searches for easter eggs and analysis to exhaustion online, which I didn't look at because I see my previews in the theater, thank you very much. But it's amazing how those eighty-eight seconds just grabbed me; there's something about Star Wars that makes a viewer want to believe, and this trailer, chock full of things that look both familiar and new, taps right into it. I'm already imagining a story that has the Solo kids chasing after some new threat that comes from this "Awakening", with John Boyega's Stormtrooper the only witness, thus forcing an uneasy alliance. And that capper with the Falcon and TIEs... Yeah, take my money.

Penguins of Madagascar

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2014 at AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, RealD DCP)

DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar series turned out much better than could be expected, but came to a natural end with number three. Not that this will necessarily stop them from making more, but if the big-name voice cast also feels like it's done, it's a good thing they've got some obvious characters to spin off in the scene-stealing penguins. And while it's always risky to give characters designed to be fun in small doses movies of their own, Penguins of Madagascar is fast-paced and amusing enough to keep the kids in the audience entertained.

It starts with a flashback to ten years ago, when fluffy kid penguins Skipper (voice of Tom McGrath), Kowalski (voice of Chris Miller), and Rico (voice of Conrad Vernon) stepped out of their flock's endless march to chase a loose egg, from which hatches Private (voice of Christopher Knights), and kicks off a series of events that ignite their taste for adventure. In the present, that means bailing on the circus from the last movie to infiltrate Fort Knox - only to be hijacked to Venice by mad scientist Dr. Octavius Brine (voice of John Malkovich). In escaping, they cross paths with four agents from an agency called The North Wind: Polar bear Corporal (voice of Peter Stormare), seal Short Fuse (voice of Ken Jeong), snow owl Eva (voice of Annet Mahendru), and wolf Classified (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) - not his actual name, but what Skipper starts calling him, and given that sort of misunderstanding, it's not surprising that the North Wind team underestimates the penguins' potential contribution.

It's pretty obvious where the movie is going to go from almost minute one - folks dismiss penguins as not being particularly capable because they're cute, whether it be Classified looking down his snout at Skipper and company or the older penguins constantly underestimating Private, so you can confidently lay money on Private having to save the day in the final act. But while an adult can see it coming from a mile away, that doesn't mean kids watching it (especially during the holiday season, which can be an endless string of relatives saying they're so cute and are growing up too fast) won't know exactly how the penguins feel. Maybe you don't need four writers to come up with this, but it is a little impressive how they and directors Eric Darnell & Simon J. Smith are able to both build gags around penguins being cute and the rebellious nature of these characters who don't necessarily want that reputation.

Full review at EFC.

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