Published Jun 07, 2007A lot of strange things have been done in the name of anthropomorphism in CGI childrens films: everything from vehicles that managed to build themselves roads and towns in Pixars Cars to male cows that inexplicably had udders in the risible Barnyard has been done. By those standards, a film about surfing penguins on a tropical island filmed in a mock documentary style is practically the picture of restraint.
Appearing to join Happy Feet on the surely waning penguin bandwagon started by March of the Penguins, theres a strange Trojan horse aspect to these CGI seabirds. If Happy Feet was really an ecological horror tale rather than a musical comedy than Surfs Up is a completely earnest surfing movie that just happens to star penguins.
Telling the story of hot-headed surfer Cody Maverick (Shia LeBeouf) and his transition from small-town nobody (in the best pun of the film, he hails from "Shiverpool) to respected competition surfer, Surfs Up doesnt use its mock documentary style quite as well as a framing device as it could have, forgetting thats what its supposed to be for long stretches of time. Neither is it as orientated towards comedy as the trailer would have you believe.
However, other than one crass misstep (a pointless joyride through a volcanic cave that screams, "Play me in the upcoming videogame!), Surfs Up is a sensitive and uplifting love song to recreational surfing. Even the cast happily playing their own stereotypes dont grate: Jeff Bridges channels the Dude/that guy in Stick It, Jon Heder is a spaced-out weirdo, etc. However, Brian Posehn stands out as Codys cranky brother.
Gorgeous to look at, featuring sea waves you never doubt the reality of and believably slick penguins, Surfs Up is pleasant family fare with a nice message that aims to, and succeeds in, fostering an interest in surfing. (Sony)