Andy Bockelman: Hang six with 'Surf's Up'

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When next you visit the movie house, catch a wave and hang six with the penguins from "Surf's Up."

A film crew documents the ambitions of teenage penguin Cody Maverick (Shia LeBeouf), who longs to be a legendary surfer like the penguins who invented the sport, and especially like his hero Zeke "Big Z" Topanga.

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When a talent scout (Mario Cantone) approaches him about surfing in the Big Z Memorial Surf Off, he jumps at the chance to leave his small Antarctic village of Shiverpool.

Immediately upon arriving at the tropical Pen Gu Island, Cody challenges the reigning champ Tank "The Shredder" Evans (Diedrich Bader) and is humiliated by the outcome.

Downtrodden, he meets a beach bum named Geek (Jeff Bridges) who teaches him that the art of surfing is about much more than competition.

It seems to be the summer of Shia LeBeouf, with the "Even Stevens" star headlining three major movies (the others being the "Rear Window" rework "Disturbia" and the upcoming "Transformers"), but his voice work as Cody is easily the best use of his talents.

Of course, there are many other distinctive intonations in the fray. Bridges provides the perfect lolling tone to Geek, who is like a cross between John Candy and Mr. Miyagi.

Jon Heder makes for an excellent supporting character as Chicken Joe, a spaced-out rooster surfer from Wisconsin who befriends Cody.

James Woods provides gusto as surfing merchandiser Reggie Belafonte, a greedy otter with a Don King hairstyle and a mouth to match.

Comedian Cantone works just as nicely as sandpiper Mikey Abromowitz, Reggie's stressed-out assistant.

In addition to the wonderful Zooey Deschanel as Cody's love interest Lani, and Bader as Tank (whose ego could fill up a good portion of the ocean), the cast is rounded out by pro surfers Kelly Slater and Rob Machado as penguified versions of themselves.

Penguins seem to be the big trend lately; whether they are migrating ("March of the Penguins"), dancing ("Happy Feet"), or hijacking ships ("Madagascar"), the flightless birds are incomparable scene stealers.

Even with this flock of recent movies, "Surf's Up" manages to maintain its own unique charm.

The basic storyline is hopelessly derivative, but presenting it in a mockumentary style keeps it fresh, and invokes memories of surfing movies such as the "The Endless Summer" and the documentary "Riding Giants."

Lighter and breezier than "March" or "Happy Feet," the film captures the carefree surf spirit by embracing Geek's philosophy of surfing purely for the fun of it and pointing out the folly of win-at-any-cost Tank (summed up accurately and hilariously by a young penguin spectator who calls him "a dirty trash can full of poop").

All of this is framed perfectly by vibrant, life-like animation.

In the audio department, the soundtrack is impeccable as well, topped off by Geek's original, signature song (with ukulele accompaniment by Bridges himself) which he sings at the tail end of the credits.

With its dazzling visuals and rollicking music, "Surf's Up" will surely inspire viewers young and old alike to grab a board and shoot the tube the instant they leave the theatre.

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