Directed by: Ash Brannon and Chris Buck
Premise: An animated film. Penguin surfer Cody Maverick (voice of Shia LaBeouf) travels from Antarctica to a tropical island to participate in a surfing competition with other penguins. Once there he falls for a lifeguard (voice of Zooey Deschanel), comes into conflict with a ruthless surfer (voice of Diedrich Bader), and becomes a student of legendary surfer Big Z (voice of Jeff Bridges).
What Works: Surf’s Up is a fun, solid piece of family entertainment. The film is at its best in the opening and the closing. Surf’s Up models itself as a pseudo-documentary like This is Spinal Tap and plays on the documentary form, in turn taking some lighthearted stabs at other penguin and animated films like Happy Feet and March of the Penguins. The humor works in such a way that it will appeal to both children and adults, much like Disney’s animated version of Hercules. Nothing in Surf’s Up is too racy but the film does not insult the intelligence of either audience. The animation is superb, playing with the form in places, and the kinetics of the surfing scenes are very exciting to watch. The real treat of the film is Jeff Bridges voice role as Big Z, which is essentially an avian version of his character The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Bridges brings a lot of fun to the film in his wise but flawed character.
What Doesn’t: The middle of Surf’s Up drags a bit, as it gets away from poking fun at animated films and the surfing scenes are not as interesting here. Bridges’ contribution saves the movie in the second act.
Bottom Line: Just as the current penguin trend and animated films starring talking animals were starting to show serious wear and tear, namely with last year’s vastly overrated Happy Feet, Surf’s Up offers a fresh take on the talking animals picture. The experiments with the form pay off and produce a film that reinvents some animation clichés.
Episode: #145 (June 17, 2007)