At last: they’re upgraded to the starring roles they deserved all along. The snappy, wisecracking penguins with the military discipline and can-do attitude are front-and-centre in this latest Madagascar adventure, and it’s the best of the series. The Penguins’ adventure is exhilarating and delirious and hilarious, and Brandon Sawyer’s script is supercharged with gags; it positively effervesces with great lines. Now the guys are menaced by a giant octopus called Brine (voiced by John Malkovich), a resentful supervillain haunted by the past – maybe inspired by Syndrome from The Incredibles – who resents the way cute penguins stole his thunder when they were all in the zoo together. He attempts an abduction, but the boys are helped by a mysterious organisation called North Wind, led by a sleek wolf voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. The film gets off to a glorious start, satirising the fashion for sentimental nature documentaries about penguins, with a character surreally voiced by Werner Herzog, who enthuses disquietingly about the cute penguins. The toweringly high standard is maintained throughout. There aren’t many films as well-written as this: it’s a Christmas slam-dunk. What with Paddington and these three penguins, holiday entertainment is pretty well covered.
Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian's film critic