Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Penguins of Madagascar Adoption Movie Review

Years ago, in Antarctica, three young penguins noticed an abandoned egg. They broke away from a migrating group of penguins and bravely went to rescue the egg, in spite of being told by another penguin, “we lose a few eggs every year; it’s only nature.”

The rescued egg hatches into Private, a kind but clumsy penguin who immediately greets the other penguins, “Hello. Are you my family?”

Ten years later, the penguins operate as a military unit of sorts. They are captured by Dave, an octopus bitter at being displaced from a zoo by the penguins, years earlier. Dave intends to capture all of the zoo-living penguins in the world, and to use a Medusa Serum to make the penguins ugly and deranged. A team of secret agents called the North Wind is aware of Dave’s plans, and works with the penguins to thwart them.

The Adoption Connection  

Private is, more or less, the adopted brother of Rico, Kowalski and Skipper. He quickly identifies them as family. One of the penguins explains to him, clumsily, “You don’t have a family and we’re all going to die,” before actually beginning to function as family. Another penguin corrects the first one, “You know what, kid, you’ve got us, and we’ve got each other. If that’s not a family, I don’t know what is.”

Strong Points

Private does have a loving, loyal family in his penguin brothers.


Private is loved by his adoptive penguin siblings, but they mostly nurture him and value him as cute. Private, more than anything, wants to “be a valued and productive member” of the family, but they don’t seem to take him seriously for much of the film. They even refer to him as their mascot. And ultimately, Private’s cuteness is a key factor in what allows him to save the day. Ultimately, though, the other penguins affirm, “Looks don’t matter. It’s what you do that counts, and look at what you did. You are the most meaningful and valued member of the team.”

Dave has turned villainous because he felt unloved. He wants other people (well, penguins) to feel how he felt. The penguins actually treat him rather unkindly. I watched this film with a nine-year-old who commented afterwards that, if the penguins had been nice to Dave, Dave might have been nice back to them. It’s a valid point. At the end of the film, it seems that Dave will be liked by a little girl, and a penguin does express, “I hope you find happiness.”


Penguins of Madagascar is a good fit for kids ages 5-11. The penguins are, more or less, an adoptive family, but their adoptive status isn’t part of the plot; it’s just part of life. The movie also does open a way for parents to talk with their kids about some difficult feelings – feeling unvalued (like Private) or unliked (like Dave).

Questions for Discussion

What makes a family, a family?

Private felt like he wasn’t valued as a member of the family. Have you ever felt that way? What changed it for private? What changes it for you?

Have you ever felt like Dave, like people don’t like you? What was that like? Did it get better?

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