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'Surf's Up'

Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) chases surfer stardom in <em>Surf's Up</em>.
Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) chases surfer stardom in Surf's Up.

Third time's the charm with the penguins. Who'd have thought? The premise of this digitally animated flick is high-concept enough — it's supposedly a documentary about penguins hanging six, as it were, in the Penguin World Surfing Competition in Hawaii — to make you wonder just how high the conceptualizers were when they thunk it up.

But the film turns out to be a laid-back delight; complete with the animated equivalent of hand-held cameras, boom mikes accidentally descending into the frame, and a loose mockumentary format much like the one Christopher Guest developed for Waiting for Guffman, it's got as much to offer adults as kids. And when glacier-kid Cody Maverick (voice of Shia LaBeouf) gets taken under the wing of surfing legend Big Z (voice: Jeff Bridges), the improvised, ad-libby ethos gets pretty giddy. It helps that computer animation can take you where cameras can't — alongside two surfers inside the curl of a perfect wave at sunset — as easily as it can to the ocean floor with a wipe-out. And the picture's message, which is basically that winning's not as important as having fun, will sit well with any parent who's ever had to console a car full of Little Leaguers after a heartbreaker.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.