Penguins of Madagascar footage

It only took “three movies, ten video games, and 80 television episodes” by one director’s count, but the scene-stealing penguins from Madagascar are finally getting their own movie this fall. And based on what we saw at DreamWorks Animation’s Penguins of Madagascar Comic-Con panel on Thursday, they certainly deserve it.

Directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith and star/producer Tom McGrath were on hand to present twenty minutes of never-before-seen footage from the animated adventure, while stars John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch helped crank up the excitement just by being their charming selves. Hit the jump to get the panel highlights including recaps of the footage.

[Update: A new clip and a new poster have just hit the web -- check 'em out after the jump.]

The Story

As explained by the filmmakers, Penguins of Madagascar is an “epic spy thriller” that delves into the origin story of the scene-stealing birds from the earlier films. Malkovich plays the villain, Dr. Octavius Brine a.k.a. Dave, who has ties to the penguins’ past.

“He’s an octopus who feels he had his life ruined in every zoo or Sea World or aquatic park where he lived because the penguins lived there, they were cute, people oohed and ahhed and he no longer got any attention,” Malkovich explained.

Fortunately, the penguins won’t be battling him alone. Also making his debut in this installment is Classified, the wolf leader of an animal welfare task called North Wind. Cumberbatch, who voices him, described the character as “an all-action wolf” working “the whole Bond pastiche.”

While Dave and Classified play major roles in the story, the footage also revealed a minor role — a cameo, really — for Werner Herzog. The famed director can be heard over the opening scene of the movie, as the narrator of a documentary about penguins. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to Encounters at the End of the World, the 2007 documentary directed and narrated by the real-life Herzog.

The Panel

Cumberbatch was making his first-ever Comic-Con appearance with the DreamWorks Animation panel, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way he worked the crowd. Cumberbatch gave fans plenty to buzz about, cracking jokes about everything from his artistic process to his superhero dreams. Here are his three best moments:

  • Cumberbatch on the process he took to get into character: “You have to go undercover for a long time. I worked in Yellowstone Park as a wolf for a while. I was accepted by a band and things got a bit hairy, no pun intended, when I became the alpha male. About a month into it, I realized that two of the other wolves were Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis. The hardest thing is getting unwolfed. Going to the bathroom, that’s a new education. Eating habits are a bit awkward. Don’t put any kitties in front of me.”
  • Cumberbatch on the difference between mo-cap work and animation voice work: “I like to use my body.”
  • Cumberbatch on which superhero he’d like to play: “Nurse Normal… that was a joke on Doctor Strange. I don’t know. Batman, I guess.”
  • Bonus! Malkovich on which superhero he’d like to play: “Lois Lane.”

The Footage

Over the course of the panel, we were treated to about twenty minutes of footage including a rough cut of the first six minutes of the film. We’ll post the clips if and when they come online, but in the meantime here’s a rundown of what we saw.

Clip #1: Fort Knox

The first clip we were shown was an early scene from the movie, set in the present day. It’s Private’s tenth birthday, and he and the other three penguins are on a hang glider on its way to Fort Knox. They crash-land over the entrance. The penguins sneak in, using their black-and-white coloring to hide in plain sight and playing recorded banjo music as a password (“It’s Kentucky”).

They get inside the vault, which is stuffed with gleaming gold bars… and pass right through it so they can make their way to a break room with a vending machine full of cheese puffs. Skipper gives Private a gold coin so he can buy a bag, but while trying to retrieve the snacks Private somehow gets sucked into the machine.

The other penguins see that he’s mixed in with cheese puff bags and that it’d cost $3.50 to buy him back. While they’re trying to decide what to do, octopus tentacles start coming out of the machine and suck the other penguins in there with Private.

Clip #2: Scientist

Inside a large room, the penguins look up to see a scientist with red hair, a white lab coat, and long, thin limbs walking across the ceiling. He drops down to the floor right in front of the penguins, and his limbs are all tangled up.

The penguins demand to know who he is, and the scientist presents a TIME magazine with himself on the cover. He’s known to the public as Dr. Octavius Brine, “renowned geneticist, cheese enthusiast, and frequent contributor to NPR pledge drives.” But then he discards his disguise and exposes himself as a bright purple octopus, dramatically revealing his true identity: “I AM DAVE!”

Unfortunately for Dave, the penguins still have no idea who he is. Awkwardness ensues, and in the uncomfortable silence we hear cricket chirps. That is, until the cricket apologizes, stands up, and walks out of the frame. The penguins pretend to remember Dave, even though it’s clear they don’t.

Clip #3: Venice

We see the four penguins on a rooftop in Venice. “All right boys, it’s just like Cuba,” Skipper says. They jump into a gondola with a guitar-playing gondolier. Meanwhile, three of Dave’s colorful octopus henchmen have hijacked a gondola of their own. A chase ensues through the canals of Venice.

Penguins and octopuses battle with oars, with Skipper getting blinded at one point by octopus ink. The battle even carries over onto dry land, with the penguins using the oars as stilts. Eventually their boat winds up on top of a Vespa, speeds up a watermelon cart onto a roof, and flies into the air.

Everyone crash lands and the penguins find themselves cornered in an alleyway. Things look bad for them until an owl, a seal, and a bear materialize seemingly out of nowhere. They use high-tech gadgets to subdue the octopuses and rescue the penguins. It turns out they’ve been sent by North Wind.

Clip #4: North Wind HQ

Classified is leading a meeting at North Wind headquarters, with his team (the owl, seal, and bear) and the four penguins all in attendance. He explains that Brine has a doomsday weapon called the Medusa serum. As he tried to figure out a plan, one of the penguins smugly reveals that he’s already stolen the vial of Medusa serum.

Just at that moment, though, Dave’s face shows up on the big teleconferencing screen. After some technical snafus, Dave finally gets the teleconferencing equipment to work correctly so he can deliver his message. He starts gloating and eventually reveals that he has a whole vat of the serum, to Classified’s horror.

Dave dramatically declares that he must go “do some shopping for revenge,” but then has trouble figuring out how to close the connection.

Clip #5: The First Six Minutes

The last clip we saw wasn’t really a clip at all, but a rough cut of the first six minutes of the film. The movie opens on a snowy landscape with the caption “SOME YEARS AGO,” and Herzog launches into a March of the Penguins-style narrative introduction about how even Antarctica has life — “joyous, frolicking, waddling, cute, cuddly life.”

We see penguins walking in a straight line, until one falls and the others topple like dominoes. Eventually the camera makes its way to Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico. They’re just little baby penguins at this point, but they still have the same bold personalities. They try to fly to the front of the line, but realize that their wings are no good for soaring. Instead, they invent the “high one” and begin to slap their fins together.

The trio notice an egg rolling downhill, but no other penguins seem willing to do anything about it. An adult penguin shrugs that their species is “nothing but cute and cuddly. Why do you think there are always documentary crews filming us?” The camera zooms out to reveal two documentary crew members shooting the whole thing.

Skipper and his friends follow the egg and watches as it rolls off a clip and onto an abandoned ship. They watch in horror as seals come out of the water to try and eat the egg. The documentary team watches for a bit, and then the director instructs one of the crew members to shove them off the cliff.

So Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico end up on the ship too, surrounded by seals. They climb on a harpoon launcher and when the seal accidentally pulls the trigger, the penguins soar through the air to relative safety on a nearby ice floe. Meanwhile, the ship explodes behind them.

The penguins cheer, “We are really awesome at this!” and start giving each other so-called “high ones.” Eventually one of them slaps the egg, which cracks open to reveal the little baby bird who will become Private.

The newborn asks, “Hello, are you my family?” After some wordless conferring, Kowalski takes it upon himself to answer the question: “You don’t have a family and we are all going to die.” But Skipper chastises Kowalski and reassures Private that they are a family. The penguins then decide to set out in search of “adventure and glory like no penguin has ever seen before.”

Penguins of Madagascar poster

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