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TELEVISION REVIEW

Review: 'The Penguins of Madagascar' on Nickelodeon

The crafty 'Madagascar' penguins are totally cool in their new animated series.

March 28, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

Who doesn't love the tough-talking, scheme-hatching, dynamite-regurgitating penguins from the "Madagascar" films? Well, fans rejoice, because now they have their own show, appropriately titled "The Penguins of Madagascar," premiering on Nickelodeon tonight.

After carrying the weight of "Madagascar" and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" on their . . . well, whatever the animated-penguin-equivalent of shoulders is, they're back in the Central Park Zoo, where high jinks and hilarity abound.

Of course, it isn't their first time in this rodeo, son -- there was a "Christmas Caper" in 2005 and a series pre-pilot last November. But this time it's personal, er, permanent, at least in a cartoon-series-type way.

Joining them is the delightfully mad lemur King Julien, voiced here by Danny Jacobs, who does as good a high-pitched crazy as Sacha Baron Cohen did in the films.

Many of the original penguin players have returned, most important Tom McGrath as Skipper, the group's leader, who's so cool and deadpan he might have been a Raymond Chandler character if Chandler had ever thought to dabble in aquatic flightless birds.

John DiMaggio also returns as Rico, the pyrotechnic wizard with a stomach of steel, and Andy Richter as Mort, the big-eyed, chatter-prone Pygmy mouse put on Earth to do King Julien's whacked-out bidding.

Which isn't to say that all the new folks aren't terrific; they are. Jeff Bennett gives Kowalksi his brilliant, stern-voiced due, and James Patrick Stuart is a properly obsequious Private. Maurice, the reasonable lemur, is also back, voiced now by Kevin Michael Richardson, not to mention a host of guest stars, including crazy cats, kindly alligators and an otter with sleep issues.

But Mark McCorkle and Robert Schooley, the executive producers of "The Penguins of Madagascar," have not just reunited an excellent comedic team, they've resurrected the good old-fashioned cartoon.

You know, the kind that doesn't revolve around bratty/neurotic children and their pets. The kind that has really cool action scenes and dialogue that is not so shrill and snarky that it can turn a perfectly calm parent who happens to be working in the next room into a screaming idiot.

(May I take this moment to remind every parent of a cartoon-watching child that the iconic "Tom and Jerry" and "Roadrunner" were essentially silent -- oh time, time, go back in thy flight.)

There are wisecracks aplenty in "The Penguins of Madagascar," but they're mercifully made mostly in non-squeaky voices and the staccato cadences of a really good '40s gangster flick, which everyone can appreciate.

And there's all sorts of Wile E. Coyote-like gadgetry involved too: In the first episode, the penguins attempt to launch themselves to the moon; in the second they must rescue Mort from a vicious toy-recycling machine, which involves a classic conveyor belt scene; and in another they take to the sewer to investigate the spooky noise that is keeping Marlene the otter (Nicole Sullivan) awake.

See, an African otter named Marlene -- how funny is that?

The zoo is the perfect milieu, the animation is terrific and those penguins, you just can't beat those penguins. A "cute-and-cuddly-boys" cross between the Green Berets and the original "Mission: Impossible," they are the most free-flying flightless birds around.

Who needs another movie?

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'The Penguins of Madagascar'

Where: Nickelodeon

When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-Y (suitable for young children)

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