Monday, September 28, 2009

Surf's Up: Penguins Surfing? It's Better Than It Sounds

Surf's Up,sony pictures,shia labeouf,jeff bridges,zooey deschanel

I love kid's movies, most of the time. I think the only one I've written about so far here is Bee Movie, which wasn't exactly the best. I generally prefer films produced by Walt Disney's frozen head, but occasionally, other production companies will send out a film that's pretty decent, and occasionally, will even be better than expected. I haven't seen Sony Pictures Animation's first film Open Season yet, but it looked halfway decent. Their newest film, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is out now, I believe, and it looks like it could be good. We'll have to see; I was pretty impressed in general with Surf's Up.

The Lady brought it over last week, since she loves it. I wasn't sure what to think; I had some preconceived notions of penguin movies, from Happy Feet. I think the producers had a feeling about this, since there are some references to the fact that there's no singing, no dancing, etc. They almost over-reach with that, at times, putting in lots of hip, cultural references and a soundtrack filled with Green Day and popular music. It features a pretty stellar cast, starring Shia LaBeouf as the main character, Cody Maverick. Jeff Bridges stars as Geek, Zooey Deschanel as Lani, Jon Heder as Chicken Joe, Mario Cantone as Mikey (a shorebird talent scout), James Woods as Reggie Belafonte (a Don King-esque promoter sea otter), and Diedrich Bader as Tank Evans, an utterly fantastic character. I was particularly impressed with almost every scene between LaBeouf and Bridges, and I'm honestly curious if they recorded their scenes together.

surf's up,jeff bridges,shia labeouf

Presented like a documentary, Surf's Up follows Cody Maverick, a young rockhopper penguin living in Shiverpool, apparently a penguin village in the arctic. His dream is to become a surfer, after a visit from the legendary Big Z, emperor penguin and king of the surfers. He eventually is discovered and goes along with a crew of penguins (and a Chicken, who surfed Lake Michigan) to a surfing competition on Pen Gu Island, apparently the best place to surf in the world. There he meets Tank (Bader), a giant king penguin, who won the title of top surfer from Big Z when Z supposedly died in a surfing accident at the last big competition. Cody is ambitious and full of heart (as per usual with these family movie heroes), but his skills are sort of lacking. He eventually learns about the true meaning of surfing, finding the joy in it, having fun with it, and learning that being number one isn't the best thing, the most important thing, and there are plenty of wacky shenanigans, sight gags, interesting characters, great voice work, and that ever-present and extremely interesting framing as a documentary.

Three Cute Little Penguin Kids

Also, these three little penguin kids keep showing up, being interviewed briefly by the film crew (assuming they're penguins themselves, though to a certain extent, I keep thinking of them as being humans). They're pretty adorable; one of the kids keeps going into the water to "drown," so he can be saved by Lani (Deschanel). It's pretty much the cutest thing ever. As per usual with these kinds of anthropomorphic family movies, they always put fun little jokes in the periphery of the movie. Lani is a lifeguard, and so instead of one of those little red buoy things they used on Baywatch, she as a cute little squid guy, and he alternatively looks bored, amused, interested, etc., as she talks. Also, Jeff Bridges's character totally whizzes on Shia LaBeouf's character (because he stepped on some sort of sea urchin in a surfing accident). We also get a quick commentary from the pissed-off urchin, annoyed that many of his spines have been broken or are now missing.

The general plot of this movie is pretty similar to family friendly animated films. Plucky hero character with heart, trying to succeed, overcoming obstacles, sometimes pursuing a career or a path that he should have no real business pursuing (like the rat in Ratatouille, or something like that). There's a father figure, a vague love interest, and a strange, weird, dumb, or unusual friend. The obstacles aren't insurmountable, and after an initial failure, they finally reach the true meaning of what they want, and become better people/penguins/living toys/talking mice/whatever for it.

As I mentioned before, one of the things I'd be curious about is if LaBeouf and Bridges recorded their scenes in the same room together. A lot of their banter and interactions are extremely witty and interesting, and they seem too natural to be recorded separately (or even written that way). I'd like to see them on screen together sometime. I wish that LaBeouf was playing Bridges son in the new Tron movie. Oh well, maybe we'll get to see it sometime.

In general, the film as very cute, entertaining, amusing, sweet, and fun. It was better than I expected, had a lot of odd humour, interesting characters, and some great dialogue. Animated films are almost always good, when they're developed well. I was impressed with the computer graphics, as well, considering the majority of the movie took place in the ocean, with waves, rolling water, and thick jungles. Also, there are cute little Pen Guin natives, that first try to cook Chicken Joe, and then when he gives them squid-on-a-stick, he kind of becomes their leader, I guess? Also, while on the subject, Chicken Joe is a pretty wacky character, and I really like that he surfed Lake Michigan (which is something people actually do, it's not just a joke. There's actually a surf shop on the west coast of Michigan, and I've been meaning to check it out).

I'd recommend the movie if you're looking for an alternative to stuff like Happy Feet. There's no songs, no dancing, just some penguins that want to surf, for some reason. And they do, and it's actually pretty interesting. Also, some famous surfers make cameo appearances, like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. James Woods is crazy awesome as usual, and there are some really great performances.

I give it four beefy penguin surfers kissing on trophies in their mom's house out of five, or four crazy hippie surfing fat penguins voiced by the awesome Jeff Bridges out of five.

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