Opening 13 Sep 2007
In the overflowing world of CGI feature films, Surf's Up catches a new wave in the prevalent penguin market. Geared toward children that can sit through more dialogue and burping humor than action, the story and "mockumentary"-style presentation should appeal to pre-teens and adults as well. Produced, directed and written by Ash Brannon/Chris Buck/Christopher Jenkins and released from Sony Pictures, it is the story of penguin teenager Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), a penguin from Antarctica who is inspired by his childhood idol, champion surfer Big Z (Jeff Bridges), to follow his dream by entering his first surfing competition. In the pre-event activities on the beaches of Pin Gu Island (umm, Hawaii?), he meets a sassy lifeguard/potential girlfriend Lani (Zooey Deschanel), a laid-back surfer bum/aficionado Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), Don King-style event promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods), and his newest buff rival, Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader). Somehow, these characters are more refreshing than cloying in stereotypical roles you would expect from a kids' movie. When Cody is injured in a bad wipeout, he ends up in the hands of Geek, a lackadaisical loner living in a remote forest hut. Geek teaches Cody all about surfing: it comes from inside, not the glam of the spectacle. With patience, he shows Cody the beauty of being "in the Tube", finding the grain of wood that speaks to you while crafting your own board, and the ability to admit that there is something wonderful in living in the moment for yourself. All of this is found simply by "letting go". Not a bad message in its Zen simplicity and a nice change from the usual themes of botched parent/child relationships and having to prove yourself to the world by outlandish feats and bravado. The film unwinds in a nice, un-cliched way to the end like a crashing wave that breaks, slithers up the beach and deposits the foamy surf on the wet sand. Easy. Cool.
What makes Surf's Up a worthy catch are the stunning surf scenes (dark and sunny days alike) where the water just looks so real, the creative use of penguin markings to resemble tatoos, and the way we receive the story through flashbacks, interviews, and "old reel" takes in documentary format. The soundtrack was fresh and engaging: with nary a single Beach Boys song, old stand-bys like Wipeout were perfectly rocked-up to seem new. I would recommend the original version for the voice talents of Jeff Bridges (think “the Dude” from Big Lebowski) and Jon Heder, though German dubbing does a interesting job of mocking American mid-western accents.
Even if you've never surfed before, catch this wave, ride the tube and let go. (Kirstan Böttger)
Three stars for kids under 6 or 7. Very cool message and subtle images (which may be noticed only by the older person sitting next to the kid) but too much talk and not enough action for small children. Surf's Up is getting a big thumbs up on the parent internet sites, being approved for lack of violence and lack of bad language (not even a "butt"). Do expect lots of gas jokes, from both ends of the penguins. Cute animated movie overall, but we liked Happy Feet better, if it's penguin movies you're after. (Vicki Filer Mensing)