Surf’s Up (2007)

I wrote this review awhile back and it’s still how I feel, other than I downgraded it by half a ratings point.

There has been a rash of penguin-related movies made recently, in case no one’s noticed. Well, I don’t know if four movies can really be considered a rash, but for the past couple years it has seemed that there’s always been another penguin movie on the horizon. You can either praise or damn March of the Penguins for this trend, depending on how you feel about the penguin, nature’s robot. I know when I saw the previews for Happy Feet, I was damning March, and I really had no intention of seeing Surf’s Up either. That is until it was playing at work and I saw what it was really about, and then I couldn’t wait to check it out.

This is the second outing from the Sony Pictures Animation team (the first being the odious-looking Open Season), and the intriguing premise behind it is exactly why I wanted to watch the movie. Sure, there’s a bunch of talking animals in it, but it borrows from March of the Penguins by being a documentary about surfing penguins. Okay, yeah that surfing part is decidedly different and that’s pretty much what enticed me to want to see the movie. I’m going to say that Surf’s Up isn’t really aimed at kids, though I’m sure they’d enjoy the cute animals and such. Most of the dialogue appears to be aimed at … well my demographic, and it doesn’t really condescend to children at all.

Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) is a penguin from the wintry town of Shiverpool, determined to become the World Penguin Surfing Champion ever since he was a youngster and met the legendary Big Z (Jeff Bridges reinventing The Dude as a surfing penguin). When a talent scout bird (Mario Cantone) comes into Shiverpool, Cody finally gets his chance to break out of his hometown and heads off to Pen Gu Island to compete at the Big Z Memorial Surf Off. Along the way he meets the stoner-esque Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), and the pair form a fast friendship. Soon after arriving at Pen Gu, Cody finds himself right in the thick of things, falling in love with Lani (Zooey Deschanel) and defending some youngster penguins from the defending champion, Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader).

There’s a lot more to come in the movie after that point, but I don’t really want to spoil it for you. What I would like to tell you about is how natural the dialogue feels throughout the movie, how even though they’re talking penguins, they’re not out and about doing too many non-penguin things like so many CGI-animated movies do with their subject matter lately. Sony Pictures Animation (they really need a cooler name for their sub-division) assembled the cast together for the voice-overs, which is not usually done in the animated business. The cast were encouraged to ad-lib a bit, and that playful bantering back and forth is one of the many highlights throughout the movie.

My only real problem with the movie is that the documentary conceit is so strong that in telling the tale of the film, there are instances where it’s painfully obvious that the documentary filmmakers are not the ones showing us the current scenes. I may re-watch it again with the commentary on, just to see what the directors of the movie (also co-screenwriters Ash Brannon and Chris Buck) say about scenes like that. All in all though, I highly recommend the movie for anyone to watch. There’s so much to enjoy about the movie, from the quirky humour to Shia LaBeouf continuing to prove that he is going to be a tremendous lead actor in any project he works on. Jeff Bridges is amazing as usual, and what’s even more amazing is that this is the first animated movie he’s worked on since The Last Unicorn, 25 years ago. One of the more entertaining movies that I’ve seen all year.

3.5 / 5

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About SkoochXC
Long-time blogger, Canadian, cine-snark-aphile, Tweeter and generally lonely hearted guy.

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