***1/2 (out of 5)
June 8, 2007
Shia LaBeouf as CODY MAVERICK
Jeff Bridges as GEEK
Zooey Deschanel as LANI ALIIKAI
Jon Heder as CHICKEN JOE
James Woods as REGGIE BELAFONTE
Diedrich Bader as TANK EVANS
Studio: Sony Pictures
Directed by: Ash Brannon and Chris Buck
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Several months ago, I saw an early trailer of “Surf’s Up” before another animated film. When the trailer began to roll, with Shia LaBeouf’s overheard voice extolling the grand tradition of surfing in the penguin community, I could barely believe it.
Hadn’t we had enough of penguins? Sure, they’re cute as hell, and “March of the Penguins” was a fascinating film. But enough is enough. After last year’s mediocre “Happy Feet,” which survived entirely on the cute factor, can’t we find something else in the animal kingdom?
The premise of this film felt as if studio execs green lit a story of surfing animals and chose penguins over bears, cats, dogs and goats simply because the last two penguin films made a mint at the box office.
I was prepared for the worst movie on the planet.
Then the months passed. I saw the trailer many more times, and I was inundated with advertising on the kids’ networks that my sons watch. By the time I actually saw “Surf’s Up,” I wouldn’t say I warmed up to the idea of surfing penguins, but at least I accepted it.
This gave me the interesting opportunity to watch the film fresh without fixating on the godawfully stupid concept. And when I started to watch the film for its entertainment value, not as a stuffy critic bored with penguin movies, I found that I really started to enjoy the movie.
“Surf’s Up” is a CGI mockumentary that sends up surfing documentaries. Yeah, that’s not exactly a widely-known genre, but you don’t have to have seen these films to appreciate the style. The story follows young Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), a penguin from Antarctica who dreams of being a surfer. When the annual Big Z Memorial scout comes to his home town of Shiverpool, Cody jumps on for the ride.
Cody makes it to the competition, but he must face some of the best surfers in the bird world. His nemesis is the dastardly and arrogant Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader), the hot surfing star who stole the crown from surfing legend and Cody’s hero Big Z. Soon Cody realizes he’s out of his league, but some new friends help him find his true surfer inside.
While the premise of this film is overly kitschy, the movie is made with a very straightforward tone. The filmmakers took themselves seriously enough to do quality work, but they didn’t really force anything beyond the general idea. In fact, like a stereotypical surfer, this movie was surprisingly laid back.
The voice cast is excellent, with the adorable Zooey Deschanel playing the love interest, Jon Heder playing a surfing chicken from Michigan and Jeff Bridges reprising his role as “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski” to give us a washed up surfer named Geek.
Some of the dialogue, particularly the interview scenes, seems to be improvised, which gives a spontaneous feel rarely seen in animated films. And while there’s plenty of poop jokes to go around a couple times, there’s also some more intelligent and clever humor that will go over the kids’ heads and make the grown ups laugh.
Ultimately, I’m glad I gave “Surf’s Up” a chance. It’s not the best, most original or tightly plotted animated film to come down the pike, but I had an undeniably good time watching it.