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Scene-stealing sidekicks in the Madagascar movies, the cute penguin quartet get their own feature-length spin-off movie with this rollicking action caper.

The story finds the foursome – Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private – striving to foil mad scientist Octavius Brine, actually a bitter octopus called Dave (voiced by John Malkovich), who is seeking to abduct all the penguins from the world’s zoos and turn them into monsters.

Blithely overconfident bunglers, Skipper and his squad keep getting in the way of an elite team of animal commandos led by a suave wolf known only as Agent Classified (a perfectly cast Benedict Cumberbatch). From the brilliant spoof of a gloomy Werner Herzog nature documentary in the opening minutes to the madcap finale, the film is stuffed full of glorious gags.

Particularly tickling are the inspired, rapid-fire film-star puns with which Dave spurs on his underlings: ‘Charlize, they’re on the ray! Helen, hunt them down! William, hurt them! Halle, bury them! Hugh! Jack! Man the battle stations! Kevin! Bake on! We’re still going to need that victory cake!’