Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich are the celebrity voices in Penguins of Madagascar, but the real star is Tom McGrath, who co-directed the three Madagascar movies and provided the brilliant vocals for Skipper, the wingless bird who leads three other members of his species into one Quixotic adventure after another.

A spin-off from the Madagascar movies, this animated comedy sees Skipper, Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) set out to save the penguins of the planet not from the effects of climate change, but from the evil octopus Dave (Malkovich). Dave used to be the star attraction at his aquarium until visitors fell in love with the adorable birds.

A squad of carefully mismatched creatures (including Cumberbatch’s wolf) tries to prevent Dave from his malevolent designs, but Skipper has it all in control. As excuses for plots go, it’s as slender as a noodle. There are nods to several other animated and live action films, including Mission: Impossible, Despicable Me, Mastermind, and Ice Age, and puns on celebrity names. “Kevin bake on, we need the victory cake!” works far better than “Nicolas, cage them!” and “Hugh Jack man the tank!”

Directed by Eric Darnell and Simon J Smith, Penguins of Madagascar is relentlessly madcap, happily all over the place, and almost awesome in its refusal to adhere to any coherence. Its only aim is to remain so frantically funny that the silliness of the whole enterprise will go unnoticed. If you pause to listen – a little difficult, given all that yammering – or try to take in the action, you will be as much at home as a penguin in a desert.