Birds of a feather somersault, karate kick and bicker together in Eric Darnell and Simon J Smith’s misfiring computer-animated spin-off from the Madagascar films.
Frenetic and fast-paced, Penguins Of Madagascar initially sketches the back story of the four plucky Antarctic critters through the lens of a documentary film crew, who are keen to observe them in their natural habitat.
The script soon fast-forwards to the conclusion of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and literally blasts the penguins into an outlandish spy caper replete with a menagerie of animal co-stars that should be a merchandiser’s dream this Christmas.
However, the four lead characters, who are charming in small doses as sidekicks, grate slightly as heroes of their own half-baked story.
Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath) leads a crack squad comprising Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) on a daring mission to break into Fort Knox in search of treasure: a luminous orange snack called Cheezy Dibbles.
The hunt for Cheezy Dibbles leads the penguins into the clutches of nefarious octopus Dr Octavius Brine (John Malkovich), who intends to take over the world using his mutation serum.
Thankfully, Skipper and co escape and a subsequent chase along the canals of Venice leads the penguins into the company of a grey wolf called Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), who works for an elite inter-species task force known as North Wind.
Fellow agents include harp seal demolitions expert Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), snowy owl intelligence analyst Eva (Annet Mahendru) and plucky polar bear Corporal (Peter Stormare). These unlikely heroes join forces to defeat their tentacled arch-nemesis.
Penguins Of Madagascar exhibits a lack of invention throughout – Brine’s master plan for global domination bears an uncanny resemblance to events in Despicable Me 2 and the underlying message of tolerance and acceptance has been preached countless times before.
A running joke involving celebrity names in one character’s dialogue is a cute flourish but certainly not enough for these penguins to defy evolution and effortlessly take flight.