ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Penguins have been having a good couple of years in the movies. They became celebrities in "March of the Penguins." Then they tap-danced in "Happy Feet." And starting today, they will be riding the waves in "Surf's Up."

The latest penguin picture is a hybrid, what Bob Mondello calls an animated docucomedy.

BOB MONDELLO: Feeling a bit penguined out? Well, it would be hard not be at this point. But bear with me for a moment. In a normal movie about animated penguins surfing in Hawaii at the Penguin World Surfing Competition — you'd expect to see what? A tropical paradise teeming with wave-riding, high-fiving penguins, right?

(Soundbite of movie, "Surf's Up")

Unidentified Man#1: (Unintelligible), how's it going, bro?

Unidentified Man#2: Doing good, thanks.

Unidentified Man#3: What's up, buddy?

Unidentified Man#1: Okay. Later, dude.

MONDELLO: What you might not expect is an animated camera crew making the, sort of, mockumentary that Christopher Guest makes, sort of a penguinized "Waiting for Guffman," complete with a cast of deeply committed eccentrics. Chicken Joe, for instance, who has lost track of his buddy Cody who is the film's star.

(Soundbite of movie "Surf's Up")

Unidentified Man#4: Joe, can you just tell us why you're out here looking for Cody?

Mr. JON HEDER (Actor): (As Chicken Joe) You know, we've known each other way back since, like, yesterday I think it was.

Unidentified Man#4: Yeah, what is uncommon?

Mr. HEDER: (As Chicken Joe) I never really knew my father either.

MONDELLO: This interview is being captured in the animated equivalent of handheld camerawork, which is tricky, since there's no camera in digital animation. And the movie-making jokes don't stop there. The boom mike keeps slipping into the frame. There are animated Super 8 family movies. Jokes about documentaries, surfer movies and even penguin movies - since they're becoming a genre. And because the filmmakers recorded the actors' voices together, rather than in isolation as in most animated movies, the characters adlib like they do in other mockumentaries. Shia LaBeouf as Cody and Jeff Bridges as Big Z, for instance, sitting down with a big log, and trying to release its inner surfboard.

Mr. JEFF BRIDGES (Actor): (As Big Zeke) Remember, the board's already inside there, see, somewhere. And what you're doing is you're trying to find it, you now, reveal it. Okay?

Mr. SHIA LaBEOUF (Actor): (As Cody Maverick): Okay.

Mr. BRIDGES: (As Big Zeke): All right. Every carb(ph) counts. Why are you smiling? Don't smile.

Mr. LaBEOUF: (As Cody Maverick) I'm not smiling. I'm just, you know, I'm excited.

Mr. BRIDGES: (As Biog Zeke) This isn't like…

MONDELLO: Along with the easygoing dialogue comes a relaxed message: that having fun is more important than winning.

(Soundbite of movie "Surf's Up)

Unidentified Man#5: We're in - like…

Unidentified Man#6: Oh, hey…

Unidentified Woman: It's the surfer who's out there having the most fun.

Mr. MARIO CANTONE (Actor): (As Mikey Abromowitz) They're in it for the joy of it, and the rapture and the slow motion…

Mr. JAMES WOODS (Actor): (As Reggie Belafonte) Mikey, Mikey, why don't you head over the snack bar over there and get yourself a big bowl of shut up.

Unidentified Man#7: It feels better when there's a love (unintelligible) around. Was that you're question?

Unidentified Man#8: Well, where is somebody who doesn't knock me off my surfboard and break it, run on you in trying to get some big waves, especially Tank, he is definitely not a winner.

Unidentified Man#5: He's a dirty trashcan full of poop.

MONDELLO: Did I mention that "Surf's Up" is rated P.G.? Still, it's gentle and sweet and laidback like no kid flick I can think of. It' even relaxed in a way it uses computer animation - not tying to go all-National Geographic on you. It just want to make you feel at one with the wave, inside a perfect curl, warmed by the light of a perfect sunset, with a penguin hanging six.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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