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Penguins of Madagascar
  • Composed by Lorne Balfe
  • Relativity Music / 2014 / 53m

A spin-off from Dreamworks’ popular Madagascar series, Penguins of Madagascar sees the birds go off on a spy romp trying to stop the evil octopus Dave, voiced by John Malkovich.  I believe it is based on a true story.  I haven’t been a fan of the music for this series at all – full of too-obvious pop culture references, it’s felt at the lowest end of the vast array of music provided by Remote Control composers to this studio over the years.  The previous scores were all credited solely to Hans Zimmer, but gave every impression of having been written by a large number of others as well.  This time round it’s Lorne Balfe getting the credit – and he has provided music infinitely superior to any of the previous scores.  It seems to be hearkening back to the days when John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams were scoring many of the studio’s films back in its earlier days – Antz, Chicken Run and so on.  It’s not as good as them, but it has the same kind of infectious spirit and sense of fun.

The score opens with a great rendition of the main theme, a zany kind of big-band orchestra feel to the fun tune, with definite a definite espionage feel to it.  It’s impressive just how malleable the piece turns out being and how well Balfe uses it through the score – it forms the basis of virtually every track (the exception being the lovely “Private’s Theme”, which is sad and funny at the same time), sometimes heavily disguised and in many forms, action (both good-guy and bad-guy variants), adventure, even romantic.  Little flourishes add further to the fun and spy feel – electric guitars, Barry/Bond flutes and wah-wah trumpet – there’s even a fake Bond song, “He Is Dave” (a bit like The Life of Brian‘s title song, but considerably less funny).  It’s undemanding but great fun.  One demerit – the silly synthy brass sound everyone at Remote Control seems to love so much.  It scratches off the surprisingly classy sheen that would otherwise be over the music.  Still, anyone who likes this sort of thing will certainly like this because it’s done very well – it’s accomplished music, it’s a great example of how to do essentially monothematic scoring for this type of film in an interesting way (indeed, the score’s weakest moments tend to be when Balfe leaves the theme behind and goes a bit more mickey-mousey) and it certainly has entertainment value.

Rating: *** | |

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