“Surf’s Up,” Review by Susan Granger

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Are you ready for more anthropomorphic penguins? Since “March of the Penguins,” the lumbering, black-and-white birds have dominated the silver screen. Now they’ve waddled into yet another major ocean picture.

Like one of Christopher Guest’s 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 Cody’s passion for surfing – and the hulking current champion, thug-like Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader), derides his audacity (“You’re goin’ down, snowflake!”) – it’s 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 doesn’t always make you a winner: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

Written and directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, it’s 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.

Sony’s colorful CGI doesn’t 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, “Surf’s Up” floats with a laid-back 6, hitching aboard the “Happy Feet” penguin wave.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.