Penguins of Madagascar
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The Penguins of Madagascar are more clever than you think

Minnesota’s weather has gone from freezing to snowing to melting to freezing to snowing and this winter has already proved to bring an endless cycle of cancelling plans, being stuck inside or getting your car unstuck. Just when we think we hit beautiful spring weather we get ambushed again with bad winter weather. 

During the polar vortex,  I decided to re-watch a favorite animated movie of mine: Penguins of Madagascar. As I re-watched my favorite child animated characters, I realized that there are many adult references that I know many children have missed when they watched it, like I did when I watched it as a child. When I say, “adult references,” I don’t mean that they are inappropriate. Some are about politics, celebrities, and knowledge that only the well-informed kids would get.

It is one of many movies from the Madagascar franchise that began in 2005–which feels like yesterday. These four penguins have been in all of the Madagascar films as more of an added comic relief. But they were never the main characters–in this movie they are and the audience gets to learn more about our highly intelligent and uber creative penguins.

In the first few scenes of Penguins of Madagascar, we learn that the four penguins; Skipper, Private, Rico, and Kowalski–have known one another since they hatched out of their eggs in the deep frozen tundra. Together, the four of them make a family–or highly intelligent and dangerous top secret agents. Each penguin has their “purpose” for their elite penguin operative team. Skipper is the natural born leader. Rico does not use words to communicate but he always seems to have something helpful–that he swallowed. Kowalski is the brains of the operation. The movie focuses on a theme of Private continuing to have trouble finding his “purpose” quartet. And the other three penguins treat him as if he is only the cute stupid one in the beginning of the movie. Obviously, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses yet when these four work together as a team, they are non-stoppable. If they do get caught, they always escape by helping each other.

There is always some sort of “evil” villain that tries to destroy the world for personal gain or revenge. In this Madagascar movie, the villain’s name is…what for it…Dave, and he is a bright purple octopus with mini-octopi sidekicks that refrain from the English language when they speak. Much like many other sidekicks in other children’s animated movie franchises, sidekicks and minions do not speak a language that is understandable to the audience or other characters in the movie accept for their boss or master. Yet, when they do talk their boss and other octopi understand them and respond to them. Dave responds to them in English–which the audience can understand, yet the other octopi respond in other forms of verbal communication that the audience and other characters do not understand.

After Dave is introduced as the villain in the movie, there is a running gag that few movie buffs can spot. It appears almost in every scene with Dave when he is instructing his sidekicks to do something. For example:

Dave yells. “Nicholas, cage them!”

“Elijah, would you please take them away!”

“Drew, Barry, more power!”

Then Dave yells about six more times in a row to make it more obvious for the audience at the end of the movie that Dave is making puns using celebrity names. It is quite clever and adds an entire layer of comedic intelligence to the show. Dave yells:

“Helen, hunt them down!”

“Halley, bury them!”

“Hugh, Jack, man the plane!”

“Kevin, bake on! We are gonna need that later.” Dave is referring to a cake that Kevin is baking. The cake is then distorted by the four penguins in the end of the movie by Cheetos (I don’t understand this sentence).

There are several other instances where adult references have been made. Skipper yells, “Paris? France? Forget that, not with their tax laws!” What child is going to know about Paris’ tax laws–let alone–tax laws? Later the four penguins pose like the Charlie’s Angels and one of them asks, “How long do we have to stay like this?” Skipper replies, “Until we look cool…now!” There is a part in the movie where Skipper stars to slowly explain what Osteoporosis is and how to pronounce it. Simply things like this are what keeps the adult audience around, even if these movies are intended for children.

Later the audience finds out the real reason Dave is after these four cute penguins. Apparently, the four penguins “replaced” Dave as an exhibit at the New York City Zoo–so I was right, revenge. Dave does not just want revenge on these four penguins, but on all penguins. He plans on kidnapping them and turning them into monsters using some scientific machine. Dave does penguin-nap all of the penguins in all of the major city zoos across the world. It is quite impressive actually. However, one of the penguins he kidnaps is Private.

“I guess we are back in business boys, and our business is saving penguin-kind.” Skipper says. Ironically, the three penguins turn into the mutated penguins in their attempts to save Private. Private escapes and ultimately saves everyone.

The theme of Private not being able to find his purpose in the elite operative team of secret penguins is a constant throughout the entire movie. Almost every scene finds Private losing hope in himself and his abilities as he attempts to be recognized by his friends. When Private escaped and came back to save his friends from Dave at the end of the movie it just goes to show the audience what true loyalty is. At the end, Skipper calls Private the “most meaningful and valuable member” of Skipper’s team–they all shout that they love Private!

Dave even finds his happiness–maybe.

The closing scene is priceless–the penguins somehow find jetpacks and fly past New York City.




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