With just its second full-length feature, Sony Pictures' fledgling animation division scores big-time with "Surf's Up," jumping on the penguin-themed bandwagon of the previous year's "Happy Feet" and outdoing that film. It is the story of aspiring smalltown surfer Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), who goes to the Big Z Memorial Surfing Championship on Pen Gu Island with dreams of making it big. To go up against reigning champion (and all-around bully) Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader), he'll need the help of his newfound friend Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), lifeguard Lani (Zooey Deschanel) and mysterious guru Geek (Jeff Bridges).
Directors/co-writers/animators Ash Brannon ("Toy Story 2") and Chris Buck ("Tarzan") have crafted a fast-paced and fun little film with a wonderfully hilarious screenplay. But their most interesting creative choice was to tell the story in the form of a mockumentary, which might seem like an alien concept for an animated feature, but winds up working well. It gives a familiar story a fresh spin, and even opens up some new areas for the film to explore.
The animation is superb, at turns mimicking the look of handheld documentary filmmaking, ESPN style sports coverage, archival newsreel footage and in-the-water surfing cinematography, all with great precision.
If there's any drawback to "Surf's Up," it is the clutter of minor characters, especially since some of them (primarily Chicken Joe and the trio of penguin kids) wind up being woefully underused. But really just amounts to a minor quibble. This is one animated feature you won't have to be a kid to fully enjoy.
"Tank's not a winner. He's a big furry trash can full of poop."
Brannon and Buck essentially play themselves in the film by voicing the two documentary filmmakers who are following Cody around. Pro surfers Kelly Slater and Rob Machado, and X Games host Sal Masekela also cameo as themselves.
"Happy Feet" (2006).
Take a Look:
A montage of the penguin kids:
Tank shows off his trophies: