The Penguins of Madagascar – “Operation: Good Deed/When the Chips Are Down” Recap
Operation: Good Deed – After seeing a kid perform a good deed (and preaching about it to an annoyed Alice), the Penguins are inspired to do good deeds themselves with the other zoo animals. In order to do that good deed, they must take part in a series of trades with the zoo animals, thanks to King Julien. Even if they are successful, does that mean that they are done performing good deeds for the day?
When the Chips Are Down – Mort wants his Cheesy-Bits! Even if it means trapping Private in the vending machine with him. After an almost-thorough search of the zoo turns up nothing, King Julien is misled into thinking that Private and Mort were kidnapped by an evil professor. To make matters worse, Mort sabotages every attempt that Private makes at escaping. Will they be able to escape the vending machine, or will they be trapped in there forever?
“Operation: Good Deed” reminds me of the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode “Who, What, Where, Ed!” where a series of trades take place in order to accomplish a task (in the Eds case, it was obtaining an egg to make an omelet), and it suffers for it as this episode meanders through each scene. The Penguins want to perform at least one good deed for the day, but it keeps being negated by outside factors. Cleaning Marlene’s habitat results in a back injury for Mason, which leads to the need for Maurice’s magic hands, which requires Pinky’s feather, which… you get the idea. It just becomes too predictable after a while.
It gets worse when the Penguins try to get King Julien to perform a good deed because it leads to him laughing about it at 3 different points throughout this episode. It may be a running gag, but there are moments where it seems more like a need to fill in for time than a running gag, which makes it feel unnecessary. And I’ll admit, being inspired to do a good deed by a little kid performing a good deed seems a bit corny.
Those problems may seem significant, but that doesn’t make it a terrible episode. What I liked most was the fact that they brought back Kid Kazoo and acknowledged what happened in “An Elephant Never Forgets.” It’s always nice when they bring back minor characters from past episodes because it shows that they acknowledge each and every character. At least we know that the last encounter with Burt and the Penguins forced him to seek professional help. Also, I think that if you need to get somewhere fast, it’s always best to have Rico behind the wheel. No, seriously; he’d be perfect on the 405. This episode showed kids both the importance of performing a good deed and the importance of showing a total disregard for the rules of the road. Kids, if you see your parents drive like Rico, call the police.
“When the Chips Are Down” comes off as the stronger of the two because of the randomness of the plot. I mean, Mort and Private trapped in a vending machine together? That, right there, is classic Penguins of Madagascar. And it illustrates a good point: If you’re ever trapped in a vending machine, don’t be trapped with Mort. A photo of a 1996 penny would be more helpful. There are moments that had me laughing out loud, such as when Kowalski, Rico and Skipper use a Lunacorn, a Winky and a fish as “Private bait” while Maurice used a fake (at least, I hope it is fake) copy of King Julien’s feet as “Mort bait.” Also, I wasn’t expecting Private to actually lose his temper after Mort ate all of the food in the vending machine because I didn’t think it was possible.
Whereas Season Two of Penguins in general established a darker atmosphere, “When the Chips are Down” brings us back to the wackiness of Season One with scenes such as when King Julien is captivated by the television’s “important messages.” That reminds me of “Penguiner Takes All,” where he wonders if he paid too much for auto insurance (Rico pays too little, as illustrated in “Operation: Good Deed”). Just like most episodes of Penguins, there are certain jokes that the adults would get that usually fly over the kids’ heads, such as when Professor Quimby Q. QutiePie mentions how the Private and Mort dolls would be “locked in the vault” forever, a subtle jab at Disney. Which, by the way, is where Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle created Kim Possible before coming to Nickelodeon to work on Penguins.
If there are any complaints about “When the Chips Are Down”, it’s just the number of times Mort unintentionally sabotaged Private’s attempts to get the two of them out. Surely Mort could have been given a sliver of common sense, right? I guess that’s just part of Mort’s character. But that’s minor compared to what this episode gets right. Start with the storytelling. What started off as a simple plot (Private and Mort are trapped in a vending machine) becomes a great story as it branches off when King Julien thinks those two have been kidnapped, which ends the search party assaulting a beloved children’s performer in front of a live audience (of children, of course) over the whereabouts of Private and Mort. And then there’s the final scene where Skipper embraces Private after seeing him again, like a parent who just found their missing child after he wanders off at the mall. It’s very touching, especially Skipper’s repeated “you hear me?” and hugs.
This pair of episodes might not be the best that we’ve seen, but they’re certainly not the worst. If anything, they show that the series has plenty of ideas left to explore -cough-SpongeBob-cough- even as we enter the what-I-hope-is-not-but-I-know-actually-is final season. Between these two, I’m declaring “When the Chips Are Down” as the better episode overall because of its originality and better storytelling.