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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