Darien News film critic Susan Granger reviews the new animated movie, "Penguins of Madagascar:"

You don't need to have seen the first three animated "Madagascar" movies to appreciate this spinoff because it works entirely on its own.

The origin story shows how the early antics of the self-appointed leader Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath), clever Kowalski (voiced by Chris Miller), Cheezy Dibble-gobbling Rico (voiced by Conrad Vernon) and the little hatchling Private (voiced by Christopher Knight) were recorded in the Antarctic by a documentarian (voiced by Werner Herzog) who wanted to observe the flightless birds in their natural habitat.

Their nemesis is Dr. Octavius Brine -- a.k.a. Dave (voiced by John Malkovich) -- a villainous octopus disguised as an eccentric scientist. He's resentful of penguins because they perennially outperform other aquatic creatures, like his octopus brethren, at zoos, aquariums and marine parks. Brine leads an eight-armed octopus army determined to kidnap the waddling penguins and turn them into dreadful mutants.

Aid comes from Agent Classified (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), a grey wolf from an undercover task force called North Wind. He's supported by Short Fuse (voiced by Ken Jeong), an explosives-expert seal; Eva (voiced by Annet Mehendru), a beautiful, brainy owl, and Corporal (voiced by Peter Stormare), a brawny polar bear.

Screenwriters John Aboud, Michael Colton and Brandon Sawyer dish out celebrity name puns, like "Nicolas, cage them!" and "Drew, Barry, more power!" Along with a life lesson: "If I've learned anything on this delightful adventure," Skipper concludes. "It's that looks don't matter. It's what you do that counts."

Co-directed by Eric Darnell ("Madagascar") and Simon J. Smith ("Bee Movie"), it careens from Antarctica to Venice to Shanghai to Kentucky's Fort Knox to New York in a fast-paced, globe-trotting frenzy.

The extra 3-D surcharge seems superfluous, although the animation is flashy and flawless. And if you want more of the peppy penguins, catch their Nickelodeon cartoon series, set in an alternate timeline to avoid conflicts with the big-screen franchise.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Penguins of Madagascar" is a subtle yet silly 6 with enough frivolity to amuse its intended small-fry audience.

- For more about movies and theater, check the website: www.susangranger.com.