SURF'S UP (2007)
Penguin Cody Maverick spends his days surfing whatever waves he can in his small Antarctica town of Shiverpool, hoping to one day be as good as the legendary surfer Big Z. When a surfing scout picks up Cody to surf in the Big Z Memorial Surfing Contest, Cody thinks this is his big chance to finally get out of his small town. Along with a film crew following Cody and his new surfing friend, the spaced-out Chicken Joe, they head to the competition. But on his first attempt to even surf one of the big waves, Cody is completely wiped out. He is brought to the jungle hut of The Geek, an older recluse who seems to know a lot more about surfing then he is letting on. It is The Geek who shows Cody just what it means to be a surfer as he begins to train him, but will Cody be ready for the main event just three days away?
Coming in on the tail end of the penguin craze, Ash Brannon (co-director of TOY STORY 2) and Chris Buck (co-director of Disney's TARZAN) along with writer Don Rhymer (whose other writing credits will not be given space here) send up the sports movie genre in this animated "family movie" that uses pseudo-documentary and reality style to bring this oddly satisfying tale to the screen.
The overall story deals with all the standards of your underdog sports movie that have been done hundreds of times before, as the hero learns that winning isn't everything and the most important thing is just to have fun, the big burly bully is defeated, the hero meets his romantic interest, loses his romantic interest, and wins her back via sacrifice, etcetera etcetera. But hey, maybe some of the younger crowd watching this haven't been pummeled to death already with the whole "winners aren't the ones that always come in first" mentality yet, and trying to get more people to understand that is very, very important. Plus, for the kids watching, they're probably just happy watching animated hi-jinx and hearing a few poop jokes.
The true joy of this animated film lies, as has become standard with the better animated features from the past ten years or so, in the subtle winks and nudges to the adults in the audience, as Brannon is acutely aware from his work on TOY STORY 2. Jokes are hurled out at rapid speed and characters are designed specifically for the adults. The main promoter is complete riff on Don King, while Chicken Joe is a burnt-out stoner that is the animated equivalent to FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH's Jeff Spicoli. Hell, even the entire way the film is presented, via breakaway interview segments and archive film footage, won't even be fully appreciated by anyone save for the older viewers.
Unlike the latest animated features, SURF'S UP doesn't go for broke trying to bring in big names to sell it. Sure, there are a few recognizable voices and a few names in the credits will ring a bell, but it is not a blatantly in your face as that green ogre movie. Jeff Bridges smokes a bowl and brings back his super smooth and lazy voice from THE BIG LEBOWSKI and is probably the only voice you'll instantly pick up. Jon "Napoleon Dynamite" Heder gets passed the dutchie to bring get Chicken Joe's voice just right as well. Upcoming Shia LaBeouf lends his voice to Cody and does the peppy teenager thing just right. Diedrich Bader, who is best known as one of Drew Carey's sitcom sidekicks, gives a gravely voice to Tank, the bully surfer. Ironically it took an animated penguin movie to make little Diedrich the least bit intimidating.
As a surfer, I was quite impressed with how the animator got the technicalities of surfing correct. The paddling, maneuvers, and surfboard physics are all pretty accurate, and the surfing penguins catch the waves at just the right crest in the wave. Pro surfers Kelly Slater and Rob Machado also pop in for cameo roles as commentators, and a brief montage of surfing spots at the beginning of the movie showcases some of the best spots in the world. Sadly, the one thing that is completely missing is the surf music! How do you have a surfing movie without plenty of reverb-drenched instrumentals?! There is one surf song, a revamped version of Wipe Out, while the rest of the soundtrack is filled with tired alternative nonsense like Green Day, The New Radicals, and Sugar Ray. This would have been the perfect time to breathe new life into some great classic songs for a new generation to learn, and it was poorly squandered.
Now, aside from the soundtrack, the multitude of fine attention to details that are spread throughout the movie, which the kids watching aren't going to care about, make this much better than it has any right to be. I rented this almost as a joke, but honestly got caught up in the story (predictable as it was) and the characters. You want some happy feet? Get yourself standing on an nine foot longboard and drift along a curling wave at the break of dawn. Then go watch this movie. Then, for the love of the Poseidon, watch THE ENDLESS SUMMER. Please?