Spin-offs of wacky supporting characters are risky, but after being the funniest part of three Madagascar films, the quartet of conniving penguins successfully headline this zippy, clever action comedy. After a funny prologue showing the four flightless schemers as chicks on “the Earth's frozen bottom” (as a Herzog-ian documentary narrator calls Antarctica), we leapfrog past the Madagascar events to the present, where Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) must save their species from insane octopus Dave (John Malkovich). Directed by franchise veteran Eric Darnell and DreamWorks stalwart Simon J. Smith, and written by a trio of men whose comedy experience is mostly in live-action, the caper comes off as an offbeat, slightly manic adventure, exuding energy but not chaos. Turns out these birds can fly on their own after all.
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