Kids won’t get Surf’s Up, and adults—at least fans of Riding Giants—may smell a con. Scarcely radical, this new Sony animation is playfully selling itself as a “true story” about the wave-riding habits of penguins, unmistakably ripping on Stacy Peralta’s popular surfing doc. Shia LaBeouf voices Cody, a gnarly penguin who wants to leave his Antarctic home life to become a surfing star like his idol Big Z (Jeff bridges). His urge to “go away” sees no real justification, so we must assume his petulance is that of a Larry Clark teenager from hell, or that the sense of privilege that apparently fuels his ambition was picked up through whatever technology exists in the South Pole aside from the film crew that has inexplicably come there to document his life story. Surf’s Up tries to get away with a cute joke about penguins sitting on eggs that stops making sense as soon as we learn the animals live inside igloo-like buildings ostensibly warm enough to make this sort of grueling gestation process unnecessary. Call me a fool for pointing this and other holes out (why is the genital area of James Woods’s Don Kingish surf promoter blurred in one scene but never again?), but a good animation like Happy Feet knew how to make the particulars of its story conform to its wild context. But even if one were to ignore the film’s laziness, then turn a blind eye to its superficially clever mockumentary design, cute critter animation, and one or two funny gags (best is the loop placed on Cody’s wipeout after riding a Pen Gu Island wave for the first time), we’re essentially being asked to swallow an animated version of The Karate Kid. That, dude, is so not cool.
- Ash Brannon, Chris Buck
- Ash Brannon, Chris Buck, Christopher Jenkins, Don Rhymer
- Shia LaBeouf, Jon Heder, James Woods, Zooey Deschanel, Jeff Bridges
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