|Surf's Up (2007)
Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, James Woods, Jon Heder, Mario Cantone, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado
Director: Ash Brannon and Chris Buck
As the line between child and adult humor continues to be blurred, it’s nice to see at least one animation studio that isn’t afraid of going against the norm. After their last effort (the criminally overlooked “Monster House”) was brutally outperformed by the likes of “Happy Feet” and “Over the Hedge,” it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that Sony Animation’s latest feature continues to target a slightly more mature audience. Sure, they may look like a bunch of sellouts now that they’ve jumped on the penguin train, but can you really blame them? Those little black-and-white fuckers have made enough money over the past three years to solve world hunger, and if you thought it was going to stop, well, you just don’t understand Hollywood.
Told from the perspective of a documentary film crew, “Surf’s Up” stars Shia LaBeouf as Cody Maverick, a wannabe surfer from Antarctica with dreams of becoming the next big thing. After being chosen to compete in the upcoming tournament (a tribute to surfing legend Big Z), Cody is publicly embarrassed by reigning champ Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader) and nearly crushed by a massive wave. Rescued by the lovely Lani (Zooey Deschanel) and taken to her uncle Geek’s jungle getaway (Jeff Bridges) to recover, Cody soon discovers that Geek is really Big Z in hiding. It’s with his help that Cody learns the true secret to surfing, all while rediscovering his love of the sport in the process.
While it’s no secret that this is most certainly the Year of Shia, the young up-and-comer has as much to do with the success of this film as he will with Michael Bay’s adaptation of “Transformers.” The kid’s talented, but that only gets you so far when you’re voicing a CGI penguin; especially when your character is the least interesting of the bunch. Luckily, Jeff Daniels rides in to save the day as Big Zeke, the laid-back surfing guru with the gusto of The Dude and the big-wave antics of Bodhi from “Point Break,” while Jon Heder, as Cody’s sidekick Chicken Joe, earns his share of the laughs. The rest of the voice talent is wasted on a script filled with far too many clichés, including Diedrich Bader as the over-the-top villain. Not only is he given only a handful of scenes to develop his character, but they’re all equally uncomfortable for anyone under the age of 16.
At 85 minutes long, “Surf’s Up” glides by smoother than any other penguin flick you’ve seen. It may not feature a very important social message (other than “have fun”), but it won’t put you to sleep either, and in my book, that makes it winner. From sight gags involving the untimely death of our hero’s father to the super chill surfing sequences set to summer classics, “Surf’s Up” probably won’t make the kind of money that “Happy Feet” did, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun.
The single-disc release of Sony Animation’s faux surfing documentary is, unlike most kid-friendly DVDs, surprisingly loaded with special features. Along with an audio commentary by directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, the “Surf’s Up” DVD includes three deleted scenes, a short featurette on surfing lingo (“Arnold’s Zurfinary”), a behind-the-scenes look at voice recording sessions (“All Together Now”), and three making-of featurettes that discusses the revolutionary camera system designed for filming the movie. Rounding out the extras is an SFX featurette on layering (“Progression Reels”), two animated shorts (the 2002 Academy Award-winner “The ChubbChubbs” and the brand new “The ChubbChubbs Save X-Mas”), and a couple of DVD-based games.