Surf's Up Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

Surf's Up Ash Brannon and Chris Buck
A lot of strange things have been done in the name of anthropomorphism in CGI children’s films: everything from vehicles that managed to build themselves roads and towns in Pixar’s 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, there’s a strange Trojan horse aspect to these CGI seabirds. If Happy Feet was really an ecological horror tale rather than a musical comedy than Surf’s 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, Surf’s Up doesn’t use its mock documentary style quite as well as a framing device as it could have, forgetting that’s what it’s 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!”), Surf’s Up is a sensitive and uplifting love song to recreational surfing. Even the cast happily playing their own stereotypes don’t 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 Cody’s cranky brother.

Gorgeous to look at, featuring sea waves you never doubt the reality of and believably slick penguins, Surf’s Up is pleasant family fare with a nice message that aims to, and succeeds in, fostering an interest in surfing. (Sony)