The makers of "Surf's Up," a penguin-ized, animated send-up of every yawn-provoking spawn of "The Endless Summer," have opted to own the inherent tedium, beauty and, yes, preciousness of their hybrid genre. But they have scanned the territory with an industry wink emphatic enough to make seasoned mini-moguls out of the tenderest penguin worshipers in the crowd.
Since "Surf's Up" is a cartoon (a fabulously crafted one at that), it can get away with the trampled trope of mock-umentary and still lay some claim to hipness. Its hook is the making of a movie about an annual surfing competition, the Big Z Memorial Surf Off, named after a legendary penguin surfer who died for his sport 10 years ago.
The subject of this movie-within-a-movie is a 17-year-old wanna-be surfer dude from Shiverpool, Antarctica, named Cody Maverick, given perfectly zonked-out voice by Shia LaBeouf. Cody's agility on a board is more or less on a par with his ability to discuss it, which means he's pretty much a wash-out on the waves. But he has what every star of his very own beach party movie needs: the affection of the sultriest lifeguard on the beach (Zooey Deschanel), and the support of a cloddish buddy, an ex-pat surfer from poultrytown (aka Sheboygan, Mich.) named Chicken Joe (Jon Heder).
Cody is further aided in his competitive goals by an aging hermit ex-surfer (Jeff Bridges), who demonstrates anew that there is no more irritating control freak than a laid-back control freak.
Like stoners suffering from momentary lapses of clarity, the film's four credited scriptwriters and two directors (Ash Brannon and Chris Buck) periodically remember that they set up a documentary framework, and cut to talking-heads interviews on such urgencies as the meaning of winning and the heady thrill of riding inside the curl of a wave. These droll detours capture surfer-speak in all its paralyzing insipidity, and should be required viewing for anyone planning to inflict the next "Blue Crush" on the viewing public.
Less successful are gratuitous show-biz types thrown in for a little "Project Greenlight" authenticity: an abrasive promoter named Reggie Belafonte (James Woods) and Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone), a type-A personality talent scout in seagull disguise. These anthropomorphizing animated films have become so canny at aping real life (or movie life, anyway) that they don't get a free pass anymore for glib satire that would fall flat in a live-action context.
For all its efforts to tickle the hand that feeds it, "Surf's Up" matches surfing flicks at what they do best: presenting massive waves with a how-did-they-shoot-that virtuosity. The film's two most impressive effects involve point-of-view angles of the hapless Cody as he gets repeatedly dunked under the surf and then, in the climax, as he masters a wave. There are also at least four good poop jokes for audience members too young to appreciate the fine points of animation cinematography.