By CORY WOODROOF

Greenlighting an animated movie about talking penguins might not sound like the biggest cinematic risk.

Greenlighting an animated movie about talking penguins might not sound like the biggest cinematic risk.

However, DreamWorks Animation is taking a bit of a gamble with calling some of its more beloved supporting characters off the bench with the new “Penguins of Madagascar.”

In other hands, a movie like this could have been a rag-ringing – a money squeeze with characters that don’t go past a side gag in a grander movie.

The animated spin off of the “Madagascar” franchise forgoes this pitfall and nicely builds on the success of “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” without making the audience tired of these plotting penguins.

Jumping into action right after the events of the third “Madagascar” film, Skipper, the de-facto leader of this penguin squad, leads the brainy Kowalski, the zany Rico and the lovable Private away from the circus and on a new mission.

But, when an old foe from their past (the malevolent octopus, Dave, nicely voiced by John Maklovich) plots against the penguin population of the world, the birds must reluctantly ally with the North Wind, an elite group of polar animals led by a grey wolf (dubbed “Classified” by Skipper and voiced by Hollywood It-Guy Benedict Cumberbatch) to take down this slimy threat.

DreamWorks is well into their animated renaissance (June’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” has a really good chance to take home an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, the studio’s first since “Shrek”), and “Penguins of Madagascar” proves that the studio is doing fascinating things with its franchises.

Never does “Penguins” feel lazy or forced. Instead, the humor crackles with a nice balance of sight gags and sly references and one-liners and the film uses a brief runtime (92 min.) to still tell a good, full story.

Ever since DreamWorks switched over to their new animation software, their films have looked gorgeous, and “Penguins” is no different. The artistry here doesn’t quite reach that of “Dragons 2” (the first movie to utilize the new formatting), but this movie still looks as sharply animated as anything else out there.

The film’s emotional hook is a good relationship-builder for the characters, but it never overtakes the film’s frantic nature. If “Dragon 2” is DreamWorks’ majestic main dish, then “Penguins of Madagascar” is candy with character. This spin off is a breezy good time chocked full of smart humor and a nicely developed story.