Surf’s Up (2007)

16 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Does anybody, aside from me, think that “Happy Feet” was a bit overrated? I liked “Happy Feet” OK, but I felt it was a little too much. After “Happy Feet,” I didn’t expect “Surf’s Up” to be any better. “Surf’s Up” is the first movie since “Happy Feet” to feature cute penguins in a computer-animation process and I was really surprised by how much I liked it. It’s charming, cute, and funny. I liked it more than “Happy Feet” because the penguins are cuter and they have a more interesting story to tell. And it’s told through the same documentary process as “This is Spinal Tap”—it’s a mock documentary.

A documentary crew makes a film about penguin surfing. They follow the events of Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), a small boy-penguin who loves to surf, lives with his mom and jerk older brother, and lives in Shiverpool, Antarctica (a pun on Liverpool, England). His hero is the late, legendary surfer Big Z, and he wants to be just like him. He is noticed by a talent scout and he, along with a friendly chicken surfer from Wisconsin named Chicken Joe (voiced by Jon Heder), is to compete in the Big Z Memorial surfing contest.

Once arriving on the island, he runs afoul of another competitor—tough, self-absorbed Tank (voiced by Diedrich Bader, whom you might remember, from his gruff voice at least, as Rex from “Napoleon Dynamite”)—and develops a crush on the lifeguard Lani (Zooey Deschanel). After an injury in a competition between Cody and Tank, Lani takes him into the woods to her uncle nicknamed “Geek” (voiced by Jeff Bridges).

But as it turns out, Geek isn’t just a hermit. As Cody discovers, he is actually Big Z who went hiding after a failed surfing contest. Cody takes a liking—as you would if you met your idol—to Big Z, who gives him surf lessons, and as you would expect, he teaches a few life lessons as well. He teaches him these lessons in “Karate Kid” and “Big Lebowski” mode. The lesson, of course, is that winning isn’t everything. I love the scene in which Big Z teaches Cody to make his own surfboard out of a block of wood by informing him on the ways of Zen.

Kids will probably love the film but it would also keep parents entertained as well. The script is clever—it gives the movie some funny lines, a few memorable moments including the one I mentioned earlier, and a satire on sports TV shows with the archival footage of the original penguins surfing. I also love the “Spinal Tap” gimmick that it uses, the way that the camera shakes every now and then and there are questions asked by the cameraman (or camera-penguin, the movie never tells who’s making this film) and interviews with the characters.

“Surf’s Up” delivers the goods, and I admired it more than “Happy Feet” mainly because it wasn’t about penguins racing to save the world or embark on great journeys; they just want to catch some waves. It’s as simple as that. It’s funny, whimsical, witty, and a lot of fun. 

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