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Movie Review: Surf’s Up

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Another penguin movie. First there was March of the Penguins and Madagascar. Then came Happy Feet. I swear to Christ, I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. Who in hell told advertisers and Hollywood that penguins are cute, adorable birds? News flash — they're not. They're ugly and mean. Anyways, obviously someone is laughing at me because Surf's Up has just recently washed ashore.

If you couldn't deduce from my rant, Surf's Up is an animated feature starring — c'mon, you can guess it — penguins. This time around our star is Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), a misunderstood, cocky surfing penguin from Shiverpool, Antarctica. After being introduced to surfing so many years before by the world’s ranking surf champion Big Z (Jeff Bridges), Cody has decided to compete to win the 10th Annual Big Z Memorial Surf Off (Big Z disappeared 10 years ago). Along the way he befriends a fellow surfer, Chicken Joe (John Heder) and sexy penguin lifeguard Lani Aliikai (Zooey Deschanel). Our hero comes of age under the tutelage of surf bum, Geek (Jeff Bridges), while avoiding those that would do him harm like reigning surf champ Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader) and Don King-like promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods).

Thankfully, I must say, Surf's Up managed to make me forget I was watching flightless birds on the screen. I was actually more intrigued with the story (imagine that!). It’s the typical loner mentality kid with a chip on his shoulder growing up to embrace and love people around him. Good heartwarming stuff. What’s especially good about it is it’s told in a funny, offbeat kind of way in which you don’t even realize a lesson is being taught. That’s very important because the moment I feel someone or something is becoming too preachy I immediately stop listening.

As an adult, I also found there was just the right amount of low-brow humor to keep me laughing. My boys weren’t sure what I was laughing at, and that is a good thing since I don’t want them to suddenly start peeing on each other (it’s in the movie). My only quip was I wasn’t quite sure if Chicken Joe was perpetually stoned or eating acid-laced squids on a stick. Luckily, the kids didn’t catch onto that little tidbit either but I’m sure if they were a year or two older they would have made the connection. Drugs and kids movies don’t mix.

Of course I have to mention the computer generated imagery (CGI); it’s a must for any animated feature nowadays. In short, it was good, very good. Apparently someone made the smart decision to hire a real physicist to model fluid dynamics. It shows throughout Surf's Up (the scenery is 85% water) and it is applauded. The animators caught the crashing of the waves and the motion of the water in an extremely realistic fashion. The camera angles are also a very nice touch. I’ll never experience being inside the curl of a monster wave but the many shots of contestants surfing in them capture what I suspect it is like – tranquility surrounded by chaos, like the eye of a hurricane.

So, in parting, it gives me great pleasure to say Surf's Up is a fun movie for the entire family. The story is tried and true and the animation is very impressive. It’s not, however, quite enough for me to get over my hangup about those freakish birds. Please stop, Hollywood. On the other hand, it was enough to entertain me for an hour and a half, something many movies of late haven’t been able to do.

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  • nicolas

    i think it’s always nice, even in a quickly tired medium (this time, penguins) when someone is able to 1) teach a lesson in such a way that you don’t notice right away, and 2) make it worthwhile for more than one demographic.

    maybe i should change my first name to shia and success will befall me in droves?