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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.52%
Worth A Look71.43%
Average: 19.05%
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5 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Surf's Up
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by Lybarger

"It doesn’t quite hang ten, but at least it doesn’t hang itself."
3 stars

Just when you thought the penguin craze had run its course, “Surf’s Up” manages to prove there’s still life in animated penguin movie. Like its predecessor “Happy Feet,” the new film suffers from an undercooked story. But then again, the first movie demonstrated that engaging voice talent and well-crafted visuals can often take up the slack.

Part of the reason there still seems to be room for new penguin cartoons is that “Surf’s Up” directors Chris Buck and Ash Brannon adopt a completely different tone and approach from the previous efforts. Whereas “Happy Feet” was sometimes earnest to the point of annoying, “Surf’s Up” is consistently playful. The environmental allegory is missing here, but an appealingly laid back vibe takes its place.

Buck and Brannon imitate just about every ESPN sports documentary you’ve ever seen to depict the adventures of a young Antarctic bird named Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) who would rather ride the waves in his homemade surf boards than sit around watching eggs.

Having seen fellow penguin Biz Z succeed as a surfer, Cody believe that he can make it, too, even if the only boards he’s ridden are made of ice.

Cody gets his chance to prove himself when he’s recruited by a sleazy Don King-like porcupine named Reggie Belefonte (who else but James Woods?). Reggie isn’t above using the risks in the sport to push up ratings, and Cody’s eagerness and in experience with tropical waves make the lad a potential danger to himself.

Cody makes the mistake of taking on a more experienced surfer named Tank (Diedrich Bader), who specializes in bullying the other contestants. Fortunately, he gets some help from a lifeguard (Zooey Deschanel), a mysterious older penguin known only as “The Geek” (Jeff Bridges) and a chicken (Jon Heder) who’s so laid back it’s a miracle he can walk, much less walk upright.

Buck and Brannon unfold their eventual showdown with Cody and Tank in a consistently tongue and cheek manner. A good portion of the dialogue is delivered in talking head monologues straight to camera, and there’s even simulated “archival” footage of the late-great Big Z’s exploits.

Initially much of this is amusing (some athletes are much better at competing at sports than discussing them), but after a while the snarky cutaways get old. The surfing scenes are nicely staged, and frankly it’s a little more fun to watch the animated critters riding the waves instead of talking about the process.

Because “Surf’s Up” has been released so soon after “Happy Feet,” it’s impossible to watch the two films without comparing them. The latter’s earnestness and monochromatic visuals wore thin after a while, but the inspired goofiness of the “Happy Feet” soundtrack is certainly preferable to the indifferently selected top 40 tunes featured in “Surf’s Up.”

The voice casting is “Surf’s Up” is thankfully judicious. Bridges may be recycling The Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” but he appears to be having a ball poking fun at the Xen surfer stereotypes.

“Surf’s Up” is pleasantly diverting, but I wish that filmmakers who were marketing their wares to children would cut back on the gags involving flatulence and fecal matter. Yes, such sequences are comedy gold to tots, but my nephews laughed themselves silly during “The Incredibles,” and the body function gags in that flick were minimal.

If you are as gifted a filmmaker as Mel Brooks, you can get away with that sort of thing, but going for the bowel is more often than not a sign of desperation instead of inspiration.

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originally posted: 06/18/07 03:08:36
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell alot of fun 4 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. cute, i loved chicken joe :D 4 stars
6/14/08 Karrie M Cute movie, penguins surfing 5 stars
4/15/08 Matt Not the best technically-speaking, but cute and fun and not just aimed at tiny tots. 4 stars
10/24/07 Charles Tatum Some nice shots, but enough with penguins already! 3 stars
10/24/07 William Goss Snappy start, gorgeous animation saves toon from heavy-handed and overly familiar middle. 3 stars
10/14/07 Private Better than the ads made it look. Cute without being obnoxious. 4 stars
9/28/07 Noelle Cute movie. Entertaining for the target audience - Kids! Mine loved it! 4 stars
7/04/07 PamE great movie and concept 5 stars
6/17/07 Tiffany Losco cute, my daughter loved it. She kept saying the part about the trash can full of poop. 5 stars
6/14/07 bullit16 Cute. Definitely far superior to that 'other' penguin movie last year 4 stars
6/13/07 KingNeutron A fun ride from beginning to end; GFX are awesome. Must-see on bigscreen. 5 stars
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  08-Jun-2007 (PG)
  DVD: 09-Oct-2007



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