By Vic Holtreman
Short version: An unexpectedly smart and funny movie that will have both adults and kids laughing out loud.
I had no idea what to expect going into the CGI animated flick Surf's Up. I'd seen the trailers and they looked kind of cute... pretty much what you'd expect from a film about surfing penguins.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself laughing out loud at the very first scene in the movie. :-)
Now I never saw Happy Feet, but from what I've heard about it, quite the opposite from what it's advertising suggested, it served more to scare kids than to put smiles on their faces. Surf's Up actually delivers what you expect from seeing the commercials and trailers: A fun, lighthearted and (within the standard cliche paramters) uplifting movie that both adults and kids can enjoy.
Surf's Up is the story of Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), a puny penguin with thoughts of greatness and surfing that put him on the outside of his community. The story opens with him being interviewed by a film crew, telling the story of how he first met the famous surfer "Big Z." Cody has a huge and overbearing brother that thinks he's flaky, a protective and concerned mother that's a bit disconnected and hopes he will grow out of whatever phase he's in. Overall, the story is about how Cody gets into the big Penguin World Surfing Championship and what happens to him while he's there.
Along the way we meet his new (and also an outsider) surfing chicken buddy Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), Lani the cute lifeguard (Zooey Deschanel), the current obnoxious champion Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader) and old-timer Geek, played by Jeff Bridges. All the actors do a great job, and in particular I enjoyed the clueless everything-will-be-ok performance of Jon Heder. However I really have to single out one actor who put a big grin on my face every time he opened his mouth: James Woods as surf promoter Reggie Belafonte. Knowing James Woods from other films, it was just a joy to "see" him play this con-artist-like but extremely diminuitive character with a big Cheshire cat grin. :-)
The movie combines the feel of the classic surfer movie Endless Summer with the style of the original short film Creature Comforts by Aardman Studios, and it's a great combination. The interviews are played straight, and watching Cody earnestly reminiscing and answering questions as a penguin with a surfer twang to his voice was priceless. As long as the movie stayed on that track, it was great. However later on it does fall into the more typical animated film conventions that you would expect to find in a kids CGI movie: Hero gets frustrated and almost chucks the whole thing only to come back in the end and triumph. At least the triumph is not exactly what one would expect, and the movie gets points for that.
Having said that, even the parts where it gets more predictable are still funny and entertaining. I really enjoyed Jeff Bridges as an old, laid back surfer dude as well.
Overall, just a great, fun movie for both kids and grownups that'll put a smile on your face. It's rated PG for a couple of mild curse words but other than that I say it's suitable for all ages.