If you're looking for a review, scroll down. But, listen, you're reading this on the internet, which means that you are primarily interested in how this film handles the voice-acting debut of patron saint of the internet, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Actually, let me put that in larger type, so I'm sure I have your attention.
The British actor — probably best known to Americans for his work as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock and his role as the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness — is having a rather impressive holiday movie season between this and Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, which seems likely to land him an Oscar nomination. (The latter is playing in select cities this weekend and may be a better bet for you, if not your kids, who will likely find it boring.)
Cumberbatch has attracted the attention of the internet, and especially the Tumblr crowd, because he's got a very weird sensuality to him that either strikes you as extremely sexy or extremely robotic. What Dreamworks seems to have realized is that so much of what's sexy about him is bound up in his voice, a mellifluous British purr that rumbles up from the bass register and winds its way around your eardrums.
As such, this has the ultra-strange effect of making Classified, the cartoon wolf leader of the North Wind Cumberbatch voices, seem of a piece with his other so-asexual-they-become-sexy-to-some roles. Tumblr is going to eat this up, then wonder why it feels this way about a cartoon canine.
To assist in the process, we have collected some of his dialogue from the film and pasted it below. Imagine all of these lines in that sinuous purr, and you have a very slight idea of how disconcerting this film can be for the hardcore Cumberbatch faithful. (The film also gets bonus points because the actor cannot, no matter how hard he tries, pronounce "penguins," which usually ends up sounding like "pengwings.")
In a cynical cash grab of our own, we've even made it into memes that you can share throughout the internet with your friends, to spread the good news of Benedict Cumberbatch, cartoon wolves, and Vox Dot Com. Happy Thanksgiving.
As for the movie, this is a fairly cynical cash grab, largely designed to keep the Madagascar franchise (which used to be about a bunch of zoo animals who escaped to the titular island) humming by spinning off some of its most popular characters — who were already spun off to their own television show. In the process, it introduces a new secret task force of polar animals called the North Wind, who are seemingly designed to head up their own spinoff someday. Dreamworks is nothing if not good at finding new ways to get blood from stones.
Is there a plot? Nominally so. It involves an evil octopus (John Malkovich, devouring entire hams whole in every single line) who wants to kill all penguins for ... reasons. Even the movie seems to lose interest in this, because it's just an excuse for a few chase sequences.
Honestly, you're probably just looking for somewhere to park the kids while you go take care of holiday shopping or walk off your turkey belly, and as such,Penguins of Madagascar is decidedly adequate. Some of the visual gags are fun (like how the penguins disguise themselves to get into Fort Knox). Malkovich and some of the other voice actors are hoots. And the chase sequences have a spirited energy to them. This is not exactly a recommendation, but there are far, far worse things you could subject your children (or even yourself) to.