If the idea alone of penguins competing in a surfing contest in a tropical climate isn’t enough to make you laugh, then the characters and dialogue featured in the computer-animated “Surf’s Up” surely will.
“Surf’s Up” tells the story of Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LeBeouf), who has wanted to compete in the Penguin Surfing Championship since he met his idol, Big Z (Jeff Bridges), who visited Cody’s home in Antarctica when he was a young chick. Despite the fact that the waves there aren’t prime for surfing conditions, Cody manages to persuade a talent scout that he has what it takes to compete in the championship. It doesn’t hurt that he refuses to let go of the whale that acts the team’s transport.
Once he arrives, he makes friends with Chicken Joe (Jon Heder of “Napoleon Dynamite”), a rooster who somehow manages to be an amazing surfer despite always walking around in a daze and who generally does not know what’s going on. He also meets Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader of “Drew Carey Show” fame), a macho tattooed jerk of a penguin that once beat Big Z in his last competition before the legend suffered his final (and I do mean final) wipeout.
But has Big Z really gone to the great wave in the sky? After following a lifeguard named Lani (Zooey Deschanel) to a hut in the forest, he begins to wonder.
One of the things that sets “Surf’s Up” apart from traditional animated fare is that it’s in the style of a documentary. This leads to plenty of humorous moments that happen in movies like “This Is Spinal Tap” and “Best In Show,” but haven’t really been seen before in kids’ movies. Sometimes characters are asked embarrassing questions so that they brush it off or change the subject. Cody’s brother continuously criticizes Cody’s unusual hobby in a way that makes it clear he’s mugging for the camera. This may not be the most original technique in the world, but it’s pretty entertaining. I mean, honestly, how often do you see penguins get introspective? You know what? Don’t even attempt to answer that.
Unlike some movies that are currently in theaters, there wasn’t a spot in “Surf’s Up” during which I got bored. There are plenty of clever jokes to keep the pace moving. And by clever, I don’t mean the kind of clever that is merely trying to draw attention to itself. I’m looking at you, Shrek. I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that most parents and their kids should enjoy this almost equally. And if I’m wrong, I’m not certain who would come out on the winning side.
Not to mention, amongst all the comedy and likable characters, the movie is beautiful to look at. Sure, that’s not unique in an age where almost every animated film is made with a computer and each one seems to push the visuals to the next level. Probably nothing can compete with the lush eye candy that was “Finding Nemo,” even four years later. But that doesn’t make movies like “Surf’s Up” any less enjoyable.
Plus … did I mention that watching penguins surfing and riding through the tube of a giant wave is just, well, really sweet.
“Surf’s Up” is rated PG: Parental guidance suggested.