Reel Reviews

‘Penguins of Madagascar’

Audience: A-I – general patronage


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Good plot and laughs for the whole family

The holiday season turns out to be the time for the “Penguins of Madagascar” (Fox) to come to the fore – and into their own.

These supporting characters from previous movies in the franchise that began with 2005’s “Madagascar” take center stage in a spirited animated adventure calculated to please kids and leave parents’ minds at ease. Comic possibilities drive the freewheeling plot of this family-friendly lark, with enjoyably silly results. But solid values are also present from the start.

Thus the film’s opening scene finds a trio of friends – take-charge Skipper (voice of Tom McGrath), analytical Kowalski (voiced by Chris Miller) and blundering Rico (voice of Conrad Vernon) – bucking the conformity and indifference of their peers to save an endangered egg. The object of their concern – which can be read as at least implicitly pro-life – soon emerges from his shell in the endearing form of Private (voice of Christopher Knights), an eager-to-please fledgling whom the pals immediately adopt as their younger brother.

Having designated themselves a do-it-yourself family, the now-complete quartet familiar from earlier outings also decides they have what it takes to be avian spies. As it turns out, they’ll need all the undercover skills they can muster since they’re being targeted by a villainous octopus named Dave (voice of John Malkovich), whose alter ego – assumed at will – is a mad scientist known as Dr. Octavius Brine.

Dave thirsts for revenge on the penguins because their irresistible cuteness in human eyes has enabled them to replace him, time and again, as the most popular resident of this zoo or that aquarium. To wreak his revenge, Dave has developed a serum that will turn the whole species into disfigured mutants whose freakish appearance will repel the very people who used to cherish them.

Dave’s nefarious activities have drawn the attention of The North Wind, a team of self-appointed secret agents who come to the rescue of animals in need. Led by a wolf known only – due to a punning miscommunication – as Classified (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), they intervene to save the penguins. But ego and pointless rivalry soon have the two groups working at cross purposes.

Even as it trots around the globe, and indulges, now and then, in genre-typical potty humor, “Penguins of Madagascar” instills lessons about the negative effects of harboring a grudge and yearning to return evil for evil. The script also emphasizes the positive results of loyalty, teamwork and cooperation.

The film contains a handful of mild scatological jokes and insults. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By John Mulderig Catholic News Service

‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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The deadly games continue

Positive values, including altruism, are highlighted in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” (Lionsgate). Together with the absence from the film of most problematic content – a good deal of stylized combat aside – those upright ethics make this sequel a worry-free choice for the parents of targeted teens.

The third installment of a four-part series based on best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins, the movie also offers satisfying – and occasionally stirring – action played out against the backdrop of the same disordered futuristic society in which its predecessors were set.

For those who are new to Panem, the dystopian North American nation that serves as that setting, here’s the (raw) deal: A cosseted urban elite, led by President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), rules oppressively over a group of outlying districts populated by downtrodden workers. Each year, some of the children of the underclass are compelled to participate in the brutal survival tournament of the title – from which normally only one victor emerges alive. Having been subjected to the games twice – first in a normal round, later as part of an all-star version – franchise heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a huge celebrity, not least because she managed to subvert the rules of the contest on both occasions. Her latest act of defiance, showcased at the end of the last film, coincided with, and helped spark, the outbreak of a rebellion against Snow’s regime.

The opening of this chapter finds Katniss holed up in a huge bunker that serves as the headquarters of the uprising. It leaders – President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former tourney supervisor-turned-rebel Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are intent on using Katniss as the inspiring symbol of their movement. Though Katniss is initially reluctant to take on that role, exposure to the ruthless devastation Snow’s forces have inflicted on the area where she used to live convinces her to play her part. But things become complicated when her sweetheart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), whom Snow is holding captive, becomes a tool in the president’s propaganda campaign aimed at stamping out the revolution.

As scripted by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, the romantic entanglements in director Francis Lawrence's sci-fi adventure are so chaste that a single kiss between Katniss and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), the lad who pines for her, takes on great significance. And Gale, it turns out, is not only well-behaved, but heroically selfless in the pursuit of Katniss’ welfare.

For those willing to buy into the mythos behind it all, the progress of the revolt in which Katniss finds herself caught up makes for an invigorating ride. As for unimpressed holdouts, they can pass the time monitoring the dialogue – in vain – for any hint of profanity or other verbal trespasses.

The film contains some bloodless but potentially disturbing violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (December 2014)

CNS classifications: A-I -- general patronage; A-II -- adults and adolescents; A-III -- adults; L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O -- morally offensive.

MPAA ratings: G -- general audiences. All ages admitted; PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17 -- no one 17 and under admitted.

Addicted, O (R)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, A-II (PG)
Annabelle, A-III (R)
As Above, So Below, L (R)
The Awakening, A-III (R)

Before I Go to Sleep, A-III (R)
Begin Again, A-III (R)
The Best of Me, A-III (PG-13)
Beyond the Lights, A-III (PG-13)
Big Hero 6, A-II (PG)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Value of Ignorance), A-III (R)
The Book of Life, A-II (PG)
The Boxtrolls, A-II (PG)
Boyhood, L (R)

Calvary, L (R)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A-III (PG-13)
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, A-III (R)
Dolphin Tale 2, A-I (PG)
Dracula Untold, A-III, PG-13
Dream House, L (PG-13)
Dumb and Dumber To, O (PG-13)

Edge of Tomorrow, A-III (PG-13)
The Equalizer, O (R)

Fury, L (R)

Get On Up, A-III (PG-13)
Gone Girl, O (R)
Guardians of the Galaxy, A-III (PG-13)

Horrible Bosses 2, O (R)
The Hundred-Foot Journey, A-III (PG)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, A-II (PG-13)

The Identical, A-I (PG)
Interstellar, A-III (PG-13)

John Wick, O (R)
The Judge, L (R)

The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Last of Robin Hood, L (R)
Left Behind, A-III (PG-13)
The Legend of Hercules, A-III (PG-13)
Lucy, L (R)

Magic in the Moonlight, A-III (PG-13)
The Maze Runner, A-III (PG-13)
Million Dollar Arm, A-III (PG)

Nightcrawler, L (R)
No Good Deed, A-III (PG-13)

Ouija, A-III, (PG-13)

Penguins of Madagascar, A-I (PG)

St. Vincent, L (PG-13)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, A-II (PG-13)
This Is Where I Leave You, O (R)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
Tusk, O (R)

A Walk Among the Tombstones, L (R)
When the Game Stands Tall, A-II (PG)

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops