Ever since Luc Jacquet's endearing documentary March of the Penguins persuaded Hollywood that penguins are the new Bambis, we have endured singing, wisecracking and even tap-dancing versions. Now, treading eagerly on the flippers of last year's Happy Feet, comes Surf's Up, a computer-animated comedy featuring birds on boards.
To deliver its winning-isn't-everything message, this ho-hum addition to the kiddie canon follows Cody Maverick (engagingly voiced by Shia LaBeouf), a young Rockhopper penguin with surfing in his blood and dreams of greatness in his head. Trailed by a documentary film crew, the fatherless Cody (Dad was eaten by a killer whale) heads for his first professional surfing competition, at which he will learn about love, perseverance and the feet-of-clay principle.
Assisting in his education is a washed-up champ (Jeff Bridges), a coy lifeguard (Zooey Deschanel) and the reigning titleholder (Diedrich Bader), whose relationship with his trophies borders on the indecent.
Directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck (both contributed to the screenplay), Surf's Up has a friendly, blue-collar vibe (Cody is an ex-fish-sorter from the Shiverpool, Antarctica) and some sly, low-key humor. Nevertheless, a moratorium on penguins might be called for, despite the inevitable anthropomorphic void.