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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Surf’s Up (review)

When I saw how this sweet but slight CGI comedy was shaping up — it’s penguins! and they’re making documentaries about their brethren who surf! — I though, Well, it’s Endless Shiver, isn’t it? Except this is nothing more than Endless Summer — you know, the classic documentary about human surfers — done up with cute little flightless birds from Antarctica. What I mean to say is this: The characters here could just as easily have been cute animated kitty cats, or cute animated amoebas, or cute animated pencils — or hell, even cute animated homo sapiens — and this flick would tell the precise same story. Wannabe surfer Cody Maverick, retired surf champ Geek, surf promoter Reggie Belafonte, and all the other motley beach bums populating this pretty but predictable tale of finding your bliss are funny critters with their own strange and appealing charms; and the voice performances of, respectively, Shia LaBeouf (Disturbia), Jeff Bridges (The Door in the Floor), and James Woods (Be Cool) (as well as the rest of the cast, which includes Diedrich Bader [Napoleon Dynamite] and the always awesome Zooey Deschanel [Bridge to Terabithia]) are warmly modulated and beautifully pulled off. But there’s nothing particularly penguin-y about them. (Okay, Reggie is some sort of hedgehog or something, but he’s not particularly hedgehoggy, either.) How would a cute flightless bird from Antarctica like Cody feel upon arriving at the tropical paradise of Pen Gu Island for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off? Does he prefer the sun? Is he too warm, with his layers of feathers and fat? Oh, Surf’s Up is infinitely more enjoyable than either Cars, in which the CGI car characters were weirdly not particularly car-ish, or Robots, in which the CGI robot characters were weirdly not particularly robot-ish, but still, if you’re worried that you’re sick of penguins after March of… Happy Feet, and the scene-stealing ’guins of Madagascar, well, that probably won’t be your reaction to this. But you may feel just a little unsatisfied anyway.

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MPAA: rated PG for mild language and some rude humor

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • Vergil

    I’m sorry to have to post this here because you didn’t specifically make the same mistake several critics have made in assuming that Penguins only live at the South Pole. But this is the only place I can find to post it. There are Penguins native to the Galapogos Islands…on the equator. So the tropical local may not be as unusual to some of the birds as we might think.

  • MaryAnn

    Well, Cody, the penguin star of this film, *is* from Antarctica. So my point stands, I think.

  • Vergil

    Well I’m sure the Galapogos species are probably specific to that region, as with probably most if not all of the “tropical” penguins. So your point stands even more. I just have to have a place to vent the useless trivia. Hope you don’t mind.

  • MaryAnn

    Not at all.

  • Jordan

    Go Australia

  • MaryAnn

    Where should Australia go?

  • Alexandria Dobkowski

    Ah, MaryAnn! While I agree that Surf’s Up cannot possibly measure up to the charm and originality of Madagascar, it seems a bit simplistic to reduce a review to a semantic argument about the origin/preferences of penguins.

    Big Z (removing his pipe): I preferred Borneo, myself.

    Lani (fluffing up her flightless feathers): You crazy. I is a city penguin. I belong in the Calgary Zoo.

    Cody: I should smack you, girl.

    In any case, I can’t believe you missed and/or was not charmed by Jeff Bridges’ invocation of his character from The Big Lebowski, “The Dude”. C’mon, “The Geek”? That alone would have made it worth the price of admission.

  • MaryAnn

    it seems a bit simplistic to reduce a review to a semantic argument

    It’s not a “semantic” argument, it’s a dissatisfaction with the premise of the film.

  • Bryan

    I honestly didn’t have high hopes for the film whatsoever, but definitely enjoyed the film much more than Madagascar and Happy Feet, which the movie actually pokes fun at briefly. It wasn’t just a bunch of animals running around with no purpose and no comedy, like Madagascar. It didn’t try to drive home a point, like Happy Feet.

    Instead, Surf’s Up had a fun mockumentary format which by itself is funny for a cgi movie. It includes various funny interviews and other sports related gags. This format very worked well for Shia’s funny awkward back and forth dialog with the camera and characters. I enjoyed Jeff Brdges’s dude-like character as Alexandri mentioned, even though I’m not a big fan of Big Lebowski. But more importantly, I liked his character’s laid back surfer attitude, relaxing on the board, watching the sunsets. Putting aside the chicken searching through the jungle, he was amusing as an unlikely surfer from Wisconsin/Michigan. And Tank’s trophy interview was very funny.

    Overall, a funny entertaining movie which doesn’t take itself too seriously but isn’t completely stupid.

  • MaryAnn

    It wasn’t just a bunch of animals running around with no purpose and no comedy, like Madagascar.

    I guess you saw a different *Madagascar* than I did

  • “It didn’t try to drive home a point, like Happy Feet.”

    Because heaven help us if a kids’ movie be about something.

    People say the environmental message in Happy Feet was tacked on and forced. They didn’t get it. The environmental message flowed naturally from the existing themes. It started out with a message about treating others as equals and deserving of respect- typical kids’ movie fare. Then it reveals how the penguins are being threatened because humans don’t treat them with respect. The message ultimately is that, if we agree that we can’t discriminate against each other based on our differences, then we can’t discriminate against other species just because they’re different either. That doesn’t mean we can’t eat other animals, but we have to be respectful of them by not wasting them and only killing when necessary, as opposed to “for fun” or because it’s easier than being responsible.

    Heck, The Lion King could be read as a similar message movie. Mufasa tells Simba about how they’re connected to the animals they eat in the circle of life and they need to respect the balance, but then Scar rules irresponsibly and upsets the balance, creating massive famine until Simba overthrows him and restores the natural order. But since the environment was less controversial back then, no one noticed.

  • Hypocee

    Yeah yeah yeah. Tacked-on, no. Forced, hell yes. Musical, comedy, message, comedy, message…BAM! Ten minutes of gruesome strangulation, because we can. Drama, message, comedy, BAM! Ten minutes of gruesome strangulation followed by twenty minutes of brainwash torture, because we can. It’s a great movie, but as it stands I need to be in the mood for a guilt trip to watch it. They used a fifteen-pound hammer in a ten-pound-hammer format.

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