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 films.
Frenetic and fast-paced, Penguins Of Madagascar initially sketches the back story of the four plucky Antarctic critters with a beak for adventure through the lens of a documentary film crew, who are keen to observe the flightless birds in their treacherous 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.
The colour-saturated animation is a feast for the eyes and there are a few neat visual gags such as the penguins’ novel approach to navigating a zebra crossing undetected.
However, the four lead characters, who are boundlessly charming in small doses as sidekicks, grate slightly as heroes of their own half-baked story.
Hopefully the adorable Minions from the Despicable Me series will dodge a similar fate when they graduate to the limelight in a self-titled feature next summer.
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.
From the offset, goofball Private is identified as the black penguin of the operation. “He’s sort of our secretary-slash-mascot,” observes Skipper.
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 with hench-octopi 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).
The unlikely heroes join forces to defeat their tentacled arch-nemesis, but this collaboration will amount to nothing unless Skipper allows Private to discover the hero within.
Penguins Of Madagascar exhibits a similar lack of invention as the films which gave birth to Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private.
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.
“If we’ve learned anything on this delightful adventure, it’s that looks don’t matter. It’s what you do that counts,” declares Skipper.
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.