June 10, 2007, Epoch Times
Not just another penguin movie
I try to go into movies without preconceived notions. However, the facts that Hollywood was churning out another flick about penguins and that elements of this one’s promotional campaign were everywhere made me sure I was walking into a cliché story with a lot of surf lingo and trite penguin humor. I walked out pleasantly surprised.
Surf’s Up is an animated “mockumentary” chronicling the experiences and lessons learned of young Cody Maverick—an up-and-coming surfer—as he finds his sea legs in the world of competitive surfing. The opening scene shows Cody taking direction from the behind-the-lens filmmakers as he introduces himself. The film’s unique format allows for in-depth character development in the first few minutes as the audience is immediately invested in the protagonist’s concerns.
We soon learn that Cody has idolized the legendary surfer, Big Z, and has dreamed all his life of leaving his home in Shiverpool, Antarctica, to become a famous, champion surfer. The story takes off when a talent scout visits Shiverpool, and Cody makes his way to Pen Gu Island for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off.
Surf’s Up gets a lot of things right. The dialogue is funny and natural, and very well executed by a talented cast that includes Shia LeBeouf, James Woods, Zooey Deschanel, Mario Cantone, Joe Heder, and Jeff Bridges. The score of modern, alternative rock is an appropriate and positive supplement to the plot development. The animation is impressive, or dare I say, rad, and the mockumentary format is an ingenious way to present a piece of animation such as this.
The star feature is not that this is a “penguin movie,” but that it is a very relatable and endearing story of a teenager with dreams and fears for his future, and perhaps a misguided sense of life’s most important things. This is a timely theme for kids as they are bombarded with ideals of fame, success, and winning. It is a coming-of-age story in the simplest sense, and one that will give its audience something to think about.
I do have a few gripes with Surf’s Up. As with many of today’s PG-rated kids’ movies, there is quite a bit of potty-humor and rude language. It would seem that some of the greatest comedians of our time (Seinfeld, Cosby) found hilarity without vulgarity. Of course, the children in my screening, at least, found these little nuggets uproarious, but I’m sure talented writers can evoke such outbursts with more sophisticated punch lines. For this, I would not recommend this film to anyone under the age of 8.
Also, without giving too much away, I found the film’s resolution somewhat lacking. While the central character’s problem is relatable, the message at the end of the film could be a bit more substantial and virtuous. It’s fine, but it could be better.
All things considered, I recommend Surf’s Up for older kids and parents alike.
(3.5 out of 5 stars)