Did we need another penguin movie? No, we really didn't. Will the public accept yet another movie featuring the cuddly flightless creatures? Sure, but certainly not without a lot of grumbling. I know I certainly bristled with skepticism many months ago upon learning the Hollywood money machine would once again attempt to latch onto the coattails of the March of the Penguins craze. Folks, I can't believe I'm saying this, but Surf's Up works. If only audiences will give it a chance, they'll discover an eye-popping delight with plenty of laughs and loads of heart-warming charm. It'll most assuredly get lost in this Summer's cacophony of buccaneers, ogres and arachnids, but once you get your fill on all that over-hyped outlandishness, come on down to the other end of the Multiplex. I promise, you won't be disappointed.
The first thing you'll notice about Surf's Up is that it's not a tale told in the typical linear fashion of most animated features. Instead, directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck present it as a documentary or reality-television show covering the Penguin World Surfing Championship. It's kind of like a tongue-in-cheek illusion that the camera just happens to be following along a la Survivor or The Amazing Race. Our view is from the jerky hand-held camera lens of a not-so unnoticeable film crew as they follow the rebellious teenaged Rockhopper penguin, Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) who so badly wants to shed the uncool stigma of his dead end fish-sorting job on a patch of ice in the bitter Antarctic town of Shiverpool. To pass the time, Cody surfs chunks of ice on what little waves he can find, most of them created by passing whales or falling ice shelves. But Cody dreams of one day going to Pen Gu Island to surf in the Big Z Memorial Surf Off, so he literally jumps at the opportunity when a scout, in the form of a pushy sandpiper (voiced by Mario Cantone), visits his town looking for surf-off contestants.
Once on the island of Pen Gu, Cody meets up with his boyhood idol, the great surfer, Big Z (Jeff Bridges) who, on an earlier visit to Shiverpool, imparted a bit of wisdom that Cody now takes to heart: "find a way, because that's what winners do." And thus, the film's message is born.
Big Z, or Zeke, has since dropped out of competitive surfing and now bides his time as a recluse, eating clams and growing fat. The relationship between Cody and Zeke becomes central to the film as the two find kindred spirits in one another. Like Simba and Pumbaa in The Lion King, Zeke and Cody initially think they have nothing in common. But as their time together grows, the discovery of lessons to be learned drives their friendship. Zeke teaches Cody to surf, and Cody shows Zeke the way back to the life he once loved.
Standing in the way of Cody's dreams of winning the competition is Tank (voiced by Diedrich Bader), the nine-time cup winner with expectations of making it ten. Tank has ruled the surfing roost on Pen Gu Island ever since Zeke supposedly died in a tragic accident some ten years earlier. But with Zeke's guidance, along with the support of the stereotypical surfer dude, Chicken Joe (voiced by Jon Heder) who hails from the surfing hotbed of Sheboygan, Wisconsin - and the lovely Lani (voice by Zooey Deschanel), perhaps Cody has a chance after all.
If you've seen any of the great surfing docs Riding Giants (2004), Step Into Liquid (2003), or Second Thoughts (2004) you'll appreciate the historical surfing references and you'll understand what the filmmakers are doing. Not only do they go for laughs and mostly succeed - they also pay loving tribute to the culture of the surfing world, all the while gently poking a bit of fun at reality television and blowhard sports-talk.
With so many characters displaying such vivid personalities, you're sure to find someone to latch onto and call your own. The filmmakers deployed an innovative technique while capturing the actors' voices. Unlike in a typical animation voiceover, the actors recorded their sessions with several other actors together in the booth at the same time, giving the dialogue a very natural, improv-ish feel. Sometimes they even talk over each other, just as would happen in real life.
Don't be scared away because Surf's Up is yet another movie featuring penguins. Trust me, no one harbored more skepticism than I going into this thing, but neither did anyone walk out more pleasantly surprised.
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English; French; Spanish; Closed Captioned
Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French-Canadian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; making-of featurette; "Lose Myself" music video by Ms. Lauryn Hill; original short "The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas".
o Feature-length commentary track with co-directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck and producer Chris Jenkins
o All Together Now: Surf's Up Voice Session (17:02)
o Not a Drop of Real Water
+ Surf Cam (7:24)
+ Making Waves (12:56)
+ Storyboard to Surfboard (02:02)
+ Progression Reel (05:19)
+ Meet the Penguins (3:53)
+ Arnold's Zurfinary (4:10)
* Deleted Scenes - 3 scenes that didn't make the final cut, including Doris-and-Sheila: Behind the Scenes (02:15)
* DVD-Rom features:
o The Secret Spot: Make Your Own Surfboard with Big Z and Cody
o Whale Hopping with Chicken Joe
o Lava Surf Game
* Animated Shorts
o The ChubbChubbs! (5:33)
o The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas (5:42)
o Gremlins, Star Wars
* Photo Galleries
* Music video: of Lauryn Hill's Lose Myself
Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging
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