Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Penguins of Madagascar

Year 9, Day 25 - 1/25/17 - Movie #2,525

BEFORE: I often can't understand why certain films take so long to hit premium cable - is it because the film's DVD sales are doing well?  Or does the distribution company have some deal with Netflix or iTunes that prevents it from going to cable?  All I know is, this film was released in theaters in 2014, and now it's THREE years later, and it still hasn't shown up.  I always put each year's animated films on my wish list, and this one's been conspicuously absent for some time - I mean, I've watched almost 900 films since "Madagascar 3", how am I supposed to remember where the story left off?  

I got excited when I saw it on my DVR, listed on the On Demand channel, about 2 weeks ago for just $1.99.  Ah, they've cut the price, that usually means it will be on some premium channel in about a month, maybe two, right?  But then I really needed to use this film as a link, it's a perfect connection between "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" and tomorrow's film, which I really really want to get to.  But I had other films to add to the list, so I didn't take advantage of the $1.99 On Demand deal when I should have - those bastards at TW Cable (sorry, Spectrum) raised the price back up to $3.99.  But WHY?  The only reason to lower the price to $1.99 would have been that no one was buying it at $3.99, so the next logical step would be to play the film on HBO or Showtime for no additional cost, over the cost of the premium channels, that is.  

Then I thought, maybe it will be cheaper on iTunes or Amazon - nope, same price.  I even signed on to my wife's Amazon Prime to maybe watch it for free - no dice.  Amazon Prime is very helpful when it comes to offering you movies you don't want to see, it seems you can never get the movie you WANT as part of the deal.  OK, so I bit the bullet and paid the $3.99, just like I did for "The Big Short", another helpful linking film.  But at some point, I've got to give up on linking movies, because it's just getting too expensive. 

So, OK, I'll watch this film and that's one problem solved, but this isn't the only film that's taken a LONG time to show up on cable.  I should know, I've got a list of them.  Where is "Nightcrawler", and where is "Drive"?  Whatever happened to that film "Into the Wild"?  They're running "Burnt" now, but where's that other film about a chef, "Chef"? That Liam Neeson film "The Grey"? Where's that biopic about Jimi Hendrix, and the other one about Linda Lovelace?  And where are films that I saw at Sundance years ago, like "Regeneration", "Scotland PA" and "The Young Poisoner's Handbook"?  I only have those on VHS and my copies are not great, so I'd love to replace them.  I had hopes that the new year would bring a bunch of new films my way, and it did, but not these. 

Tom McGrath, who voiced Odysseus in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", carries over to voice Skipper the penguin, and tomorrow I'll follow the voice of Rico the penguin to another film.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" (Movie #1,603)

THE PLOT: Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private join forces with undercover organization The North Wind to stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine from destroying the world as we know it.

AFTER: The screenwriters here have to walk a really fine line with the Penguins - the stereotype of penguins is that they're cute, cuddly, they waddle around and are genuinely clueless.  But there's not much story potential there, so they go in the opposite direction with these four, who act like a military unit - very organized, resourceful, efficient.  But then, that's not inherently funny if they're good at what they do, is it?  So they have to act like a well-oiled machine, but they also have to be generally clueless at what they do and make mistakes, essentially failing upwards.  That sounds complicated, but it puts them in the same realm as Ace Ventura, Inspector Clouseau, and many other characters.  Confidence is the most important aspect of their personality, even if they don't always succeed, they have to believe that they will.  

This film is part prequel to the "Madagascar" series, and also part sequel.  We do get to see the origin story of the team, how three young penguins broke away from their flock to save a runaway egg, which hatched to become Private (which explains why he's the inferior member, he's slightly younger than the others) but in rescuing him, they got separated from Antarctica.  The action cuts forward to the end of "Madagascar 3" (I think) where they separate from the other circus animals on their own mission.  

In a roundabout way, this puts them in touch with the film's villain, an octopus who hates penguins because in every zoo or aquarium he's ever been in, the penguins are much cuter and he's eventually shuffled off to the next zoo or aquarium.  And then somewhere along the way, he gained the ability to talk like a human (all the other octopi in the film must be mute), disguise himself as a human, and gain the scientific knowledge to develop a serum that will turn cute animals into monsters.  Yeah, that's a bit of a stretch, all of it.  

Our four hero penguins have to figure out his next target, get there first and lay a trap for Dave, the evil octopus.  But there's another group of animals out to get Dave, and unlike the penguins from the South Pole, they're the animals from the north - a harbor seal, a snow owl, a polar bear and a gray wolf.  At some point, you'd think this would all get confusing, with all these characters.  And it does.  Hey, I thought the penguins were supposed to be the stars of this film, and here come four new animals to upstage them, just like in the "Madagascar" films.  The "North Wind" animals are cockier, better equipped, and generally better trained.  It would seem logical that they'd be more likely to succeed, right?  

But in the end, it's not what kind of animal you are, it's what you're willing to sacrifice.  It's not what you look like, but what's in your heart, right?  OK, but then how come so much emphasis is placed on being "cute" like a penguin is?  The worst thing that the villain can do to them is to take away their cuteness, but if looks don't matter, then why is it so important that the penguins get changed back? 

Speaking of the end, this is the 2nd (or maybe 3rd) animated film in a row where the end is brought about by a complicated gizmo, that just happens to work the way that the story needs it to work, physics and logic be damned.  Here it's this anti-cuteness beam thingy that is powered by a serum, and when the serum is removed and replaced by something else, the whole machine then just works a different way, because it needs to.  Sure, and you can replace your car's engine with a giant hamster wheel, or someone's heart with a baked potato, and everything will be fine.  

Also starring the voices of Chris Miller (last heard in "Turbo"), Christopher Knights (last heard in "Madagascar 3"), John Malkovich (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Benedict Cumberbatch (ditto), Ken Jeong (also last heard in "Turbo"), Peter Stormare (last seen in "Nacho Libre"), Annet Mahendru, Andy Richter (last heard in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2"), Danny Jacobs, with vocal cameos from Werner Herzog (last seen in "Grizzly Man"), Billy Eichner.

RATING: 5 out of 10 snowglobes

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