Users RatingCreate an account or log in to rate this movie
Your RatingCreate an account or log in to rate this movie
Before anyone starts grumbling about the overpopulation of penguins on movie screens as it pertains to Surf’s Up, it’s important to note that this is hands down one of the most original animated features to come out since the whole “all CGI, all all-star voice cast” format of cartoons took over with Pixar back in the late 90s. Surf’s Up is shot as a faux-documentary that successfully mimics flicks like Dogtown and Z-boys and Endless Summer, and this unique tone and style results in a movie that stands out above marching penguins, dancing penguins and pretty much whatever else you want to watch penguins do.
All Cody Maverick (Shia Lebouf) has ever wanted to do is leave his small time Antarctic ‘berg (pun intended) for a life on the pro surfing circuit. But a sassy older brother (a hilarious Brian Posehn) and the prospect of a lifetime at the fish sorting station leaves him with little hope of achieving his dream, in spite of the inspirational visit he received as a child from Big Z (the greatest surfing penguin who ever lived). But through a mix of happenstance and tenacity Cody gets his shot, and soon it’s off to the Big Z Memorial competition to face down the bully of a reigning champ, Tank (Deidrich Bader), for the title. Unfortunately an initial humiliation leaves Cody hiding out in the jungle, where he stumbles upon the Geek (Jeff Bridges), an aging surfing guru who has given up the sport. But if Cody can just get the wise old hippie to mentor him, he has a real chance at returning to the shore in time for the finals to take down Tank.
As a sports movie in genre terms, there are many clichés and plot points that simply must be touched on for Surf’s Up to fit into this niche. That’s why it is easy to stomach when the film completely apes The Mighty Ducks and countless other inspirational sports flicks with the whole “hero gets shown up at the beginning, goes off and trains, and comes back a badass motherfucker” routine. Less easy to swallow is the pandering story elements that take from other recent hits, such as the tribal penguins that seem to exist only to combine the two funniest sets of creatures from recent blockbuster Madagascar (but on the other hand, at least they are cute and entertaining). As with most of the other animated blockbusters of recent years, the bevy of celebrity voices on hand can be somewhat distracting – but it helps a lot that they are all well cast, embodying their characters to the fullest. Bader and Posehn are quite hilarious, as is Jon Heder as Cody’s new friend Chicken Joe and James Woods as a fast talking sports promoter.
But back to that the whole ‘glut of cartoon penguins’ thing; even putting aside the refreshing documentary gimmick its really not that big of an issue, especially since this film is about ten million times better than the abysmal Happy Feet. The straightforward fun and whimsy of Surf’s Up goes a lot further than the faux-epic style of Feet - and light as a feather though it may be, this Sony release still manages to fit in a far more interesting lesson than the brow beating saga of Mumble the dancing penguin. See, the Geek is just trying to show Cody that the macho competitiveness of the modern sports world has killed the true benefits of surfing, which is the unabashed enjoyment and almost spiritual connection to nature. This subtle message comes off as harmless, but goes a long way in tearing down the competitive, win at all costs American mentality.
In fact, the most glaring shortcoming in the film, at least for any viewer who has gone through the glory of puberty, is the cringe-worthy soundtrack, featuring horrid cuts by the likes of Sugar Ray and 311 (there’s even a surprisingly terrible original song from Decoy fave Ken Andrews). But that a cheesy and ill-fated set of tunes is the greatest shortcoming of Surf’s Up shows just how worthwhile this cute little film really is.