Thursday, June 7, 2007

Surf's Up

Surfing penguins you ask? Yeah, I’ll admit the idea is a bit outside the box. Maybe that’s what I like about it. Surf’s Up isn’t a great animated film, but it’s a darn good one that, when it’s not too busy getting in its own way, provides a good story arc, memorable characters and some terrific animation.

Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) wants only one thing out of life, to become a surfer like his hero the famous Z. Cody leaves the cool confines of Antarctica to travel with a promoter (James Woods) and his assistant (Mario Cantone) to enter the Penguin World Surfing Championship.

There he meets a other competetors including Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), the nine-time defending champion Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader) the lovely lifeguard Lani (Zooey Deschanel) and her anti-social friend Geek (Jeff Bridges doing a pretty funny penguin version of the Dude) who hides out from the rest of the world in his shack up in the hills (don’t worry, he’s not a penguin unabomber).

The story isn’t anything new, but the choice of filming it as a documentary is a gutsy call. The entire film is presented with these characters speaking to and in front of the camera. It turns out to work wonderfully and gives the film a quite different feel from you average animated flick.

Where it gets into trouble, however, is when it cow-tows to the more base audience. The film is filled with cheap poop/fart humor that seems shoved in at random to get the young kiddies to laugh. I honestly wonder if the studio though the film was too smart for kids and demanded more cheap laughs. Although these don’t ruin the film, and many younger kids might like them, they do begin to wear on the older members of the audience.

Where the film succeeds is when it pushes the envelope and tries to create something new in a mockumentary approach to the fully realized world of competitive penguin surfing. The characters are well fleshed-out and the story, though predictable, is quite enjoyable - except when the film lowers itself for cheap jokes that mostly fall flat. It’s not the best animated film, but it does have a unique style and, in my opinion, is a superior film to last year’s Happy Feet (read the review). I guess I would rather see penguins surf than dance.

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