“Surf’s Up,” Review by Susan Granger
Are you ready for more anthropomorphic penguins? Since March of the Penguins, the lumbering, black-and-white birds have dominated the silver screen. Now theyve waddled into yet another major ocean picture.
Like one of Christopher Guests mockumentaries, this animated comedy delves behind the scenes of pro surfing, profiling an up-and-coming teenage Rockhopper penguin, Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), as he enters his first pro competition. After convincing a cynical talent scout (Mario Cantone), Cody leaves Shiverpool, Antarctica, hitching whale transport to tropical Pen Gu Island for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off, making friends en route with goofy Chicken Joe (Jon Heder).
While fast-talking promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods, channeling Don King) and coy lifeguard Lani Alikai (Zooey Deschanel) acknowledge Codys passion for surfing and the hulking current champion, thug-like Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader), derides his audacity (Youre goin down, snowflake!) – its a reclusive veteran surfer named Geek (Jeff Bridges, channeling his The Big Lebowski character) who takes him under his flipper, teaching Cody that coming in first doesnt always make you a winner: Its not the destination, its the journey.
Written and directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, its supposed to be about cool dudes breezing on boards but, mid-way, it meanders so much that both kids and their parents are bound to get restless. One sure laugh comes when Cody steps on a spiny sea urchin and Geek knows that the only way to alleviate the pain is to piddle on the wound.
Sonys colorful CGI doesnt match that of Pixar or DreamWorks yet and the shaky, handheld camerawork evokes a Stacy Peralta surfing documentary. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Surfs Up floats with a laid-back 6, hitching aboard the Happy Feet penguin wave.