There is a Chilly Willy exuberance in the new animated comedy Surf's Up, maybe an appealing anthropomorphizing hybrid of Madagascar and Blue Crush. It is almost certain that younger audiences will be appreciative of this profile of teenage Rockhopper penguin, Cody Maverick, voiced by the fast rising actor Shia LaBeouf, very appealing in Disturbia.
If the story may feel a bit time worn by parents and adults alike, there is something fun as the filmmakers imagine the sport of surfing being created by the fowl from the South Pole. While they toil to make new offspring and provide food, Cody's life is all about riding the wave. And this "mockumentary" is about his entering his first pro competition.
The approach is something Christopher Guest (A Mighty Wind, Best In Show) is familiar with and the camera crew (directors Ash Brannon - Toy Story 2 and Chris Buck Tarzan) provide some animated cinema verite zest starting in Cody's home in Shiverpool, Antartica. One gets a certain look at Cody through his widowed mom and insensitive brother.
Following your dreams is important to Cody who is helped by a whale and talent scout Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone) to realize them at the tropical Pen Gu island. The Don King-like promoter is Reggie Belafonte (James Woods of TV's "Shark"). Cody has hopes when it comes to the Big Z Memorial Surf Off, but obstacles will come his way.
Diedrich Bader is the cocky, broad-shouldered penguin Tank Evans whose competitive streak leaves Cody to be cared for by coquettish, spirited life guard Lani Aliikai, voiced by Zooey Deschanel. He'll bring the hermit Geek (Jeff Bridges) out to help him put his passion for surfing in perspective as he comes to understand the laid back surfing legend known as "Big Z."
Brannon and Buck have made a very watchable feature that benefits from the hand-held activity coalesced with f/x even if surfing isn't one's cup of tea. Also, having Jon Heder (Blades of Glory) voicing nut job surfer Chicken Joe offers much comic relief as his milieu has something in common with a plot strand of the aforementioned Madagascar.
Getting inside the "tube" or wave helps make this high-octane scenario have a certain resonance. The message of finding your own way isn't too sentimental and having LaBeouf, Woods, and Deschanel whose Lani has the ability to spot distress in young penguins makes this an animated summer treat that doesn't go for the photorealism of the superior Happy Feet. And the characters arguably have more expression and are less scary looking in some respects.