Surf's Up Movie Review
Talk about surprises. When I first saw the previews for Surf's Up, I rolled my eyes. Penguins have had the "It" factor ever since March of the Penguins, and with Surf's Up (not to mention Farce of the Penguins, which is an entirely different can of worms) it sure appeared that the the waddling birds had run their course. Hell, the first preview for the movie even made fun of the fact that everyone was capitalizing on the penguin market, a pretty bold marketing approach. But no, the penguin movies keep on coming.
Thankfully, the surprise is that Surf's Up isn't half bad. It isn't wonderful, and it's no Pixar movie or even March of the Penguins, but it's a refreshing little animated comedy. Interestingly enough, Surf's Up isn't your normal animated film. Filmed in documentary style, the movie takes a look at several CGI penguins, a chicken and a few other creatures as they prepare for a big surfing competition. There's no real adventure here; instead, the movie relies on dialogue and clever cuts to make the audience laugh. It's a risky move, a move that really didn't pay off - Surf's Up earned approximately $60 million total at the domestic box office.
Thankfully, for those who take the time to watch it, Surf's Up is a pleasant little treat. Moderately funny with some witty humor, Surf's Up has an entertaining story, likable characters and decent animation. The voice cast is great, with Shia LaBeouf bringing his frantic comedic style to a suitable role, a nervous penguin. I've liked LaBeouf in his other films, from A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints to Transformers, but if you think about it, this is the first comedy he's starred in, and comedy is one of his strong suits. Jeff Bridges as a surfing champ and Jon Heder as a stoner chicken are also a delight.
However, there is something to be aware of. Surf's Up is the antithesis of Happy Feet, which was a frenetic movie full of cute characters, lots of dancing and not much else. If Happy Feet was made for children, then Surf's Up is your penguin cartoon for adults. It's not that Surf's Up is inappropriate for kid's, just that the movie will certainly appeal to older audiences more. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if little kids get bored by watching this film, as with exception to a few goofy parts (like a replay scene where we see the main character taking a big spill multiple times) the film relies more on witty dialogue than anything else. Most of the time, we just see penguins talking to the camera. Will that appeal to little kids? Probably not. Is it a lot more entertaining than Happy Feet? Hell yes.
Compared to the best animated films of the last ten years, Surf's Up isn't anything to scream about, but it is a step above the second tier of the genre that has diluted the market. It's because of these second-tier films like Ice Age, Happy Feet and Shark's Tale that Surf's Up didn't open to bigger numbers, but it is better than all of those movies combined (though that's not saying much). If you have older children who still like CGI films, Surf's Up would be a good choice.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.