TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “The Penguins of Madagascar”

Although I have a wonderful daughter, I would not begin to claim that she’s quite ready to embark on a regular schedule of seeing movies in the theater. She’s getting there, having successfully sat through both “The Simpsons Movie” and “Kung Fu Panda,” but she really burned me when we had to get up 15 minutes into “Horton Hears a Who” (she was big on Horton, but not so much on the Whos), and, unfortunately for her, it’s the latter experience that I tend remember when it comes to considering taking her out for an afternoon at the picture show. As a result, I’m not really up on my “Madagascar” mythos…well, except to know that David Medsker disliked the second movie so much that he gave his screener DVD to to my daughter just to get it the hell out of his house. But what can I tell you? The kid and I watched it, and maybe it’s just because I hadn’t seen the first one and had nothing with which to compare it, but I kind of enjoyed it.

I’m guessing, therefore, that I will also probably enjoy the new Nickelodeon spin-off series, “The Penguins of Madagascar,” since it seems to maintain the same general kind of humor as the films.

Jeffrey Katzenberg was proud enough of the series to turn up and introduce it personally, though he quickly made it clear that his only interest was to praise the show and the franchise which spawned it, because when he was asked if the show was perhaps a sign that TV and the movie industry were becoming more closely intertwined, he merely blinked and began, “So the reason why I’m so excited about ‘The Penguins’ TV series…”

Katzenberg quickly laughed, but his eventual answer wasn’t terribly illuminating. “‘Madagascar 2’ was the Number 1 film released in the last quarter of 2008,” he said. “It’s done outstanding business here and around the rest of the world, and I think we’re just excited about being able to broaden the franchise and move these beloved characters, these core characters of the penguins, onto Nickelodeon. I don’t think it changes our distribution opportunity.”

Boring, Jeffrey, boring.

Tom McGrath, who directed “Madagascar 2,” also provides the voice of Skipper the Penguin for the series, but don’t expect to hear the dulcet tones of Sacha Baron Cohen emerging from Julian, King of Lemurs.

“That’s Danny Jacobs,” said McGrath, identifying Julian’s voice. “And we actually use him to stand in for Sacha. And he’s very funny. He’s probably one of the funniest things about this show. He’s taken this character and ran with it and has just made it his own in a way, but still keeps the same character that’s in the film. But he’s really good. He’s very funny.”

As for McGrath, offering up the voice of Skipper for the original films wasn’t something he’d expected to be doing; in fact, when he recorded it, there was no reason to believe that it would end up in the finished product.

“My partners Eric (Darnell), (Harry) Morey, and I, we had these little guys in the movie and they had a very small part,” he explained. “As we develop the story, we do scratch voices, just people that stand in. And I was doing my poor man’s Robert Stack, Charlton Heston with a little Peter Graves thrown in. And the Skipper’s always 8 inches with a Kirk Douglas complex. And we were just thinking of casting, and we thought Robert Stack would be great. You know, just the more authoritative tone. And we went into casting, Robert Stack, unfortunately, had passed away, and Jeffrey and Morey just said, ‘You do a fine voice.’ We went into animation with the scratch, basically.”

As far as what to expect from the series, Nickelodeon Animation president Brown Johnson was more than pleased to lay a brief description on the table. “It’s this sort of conjunction of top-notch tactical team that goes by the rules – the penguins – and this sort of free-form party animal of Julian, and how they figure out how to live together, and the ridiculousness that really happens,” he explained. “They mostly stay within the Central Park Zoo, which is the primary location. And when they leave, it’s because they’re going to rescue someone or to help. You know, the penguins’ ultimate goal is to make sure everything runs smoothly and that everyone is safe. And King Julien’s goal is really to be in charge and to have everybody do what he wants. So all the stories come from those two main characters, Skipper and Julien.”

But if you’re worried that the existence of “The Penguins of Madagascar” means that there won’t be another theatrical film in the franchise, fear not: Katzenberg confirmed that “Madagascar 3” has been green-lighted and is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2012.

“The Penguins of Madagascar” premieres on Nickelodeon in March 2009.

  

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