New York Magazine


Surf's Up
  Release Date: 06/08/07

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Shia LaBeouf, Zooey Deschanel, James Woods, Jane Krakowski

Director: Ash Brannon, Chris Buck

Rating: (PG)
  Family, Action/Adventure
  Running Time
  85 min
  Sony Pictures
Official Website
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I wonder what it's like to grow up in a world in which so many kid shows and movies are "meta." Characters in fairy tales lampoon their status as characters in fairy tales. Tween sitcoms and variety shows take place behind the scenes of tween sitcoms and variety shows. I'm sure most of this stuff is less pernicious than many actual fairy tales or the retro sitcoms that I was stuck watching. (Bewitched, anyone?) But what does it do to your head to come of age in a culture where nothing is straight?

I have no idea what little kids will make of the new animated feature Surf's Up—another of those "hand-hold" movies aimed at both children and the grown-ups who protect them and shell out for their popcorn. It's a "mockumentary"—a parody of something like the surfing doc Step Into Liquid, only with penguins. It's all shot with hand-held cameras. No, what I mean is, it's all "shot" with "hand-held" "cameras." It alternates "contemporary" surfing "footage" with "historical" surfing "footage" and "talking-head" "interviews." The directors, Ash Brannon and Chris Buck (who wrote the script along with Don Rhymer and Christopher Jenkins), nail all the current competition-doc clichés. The "camera crew" follows teenage penguin Cody Maverick (with the voice of Shia LaBeouf) as he runs away from Antarctica to the "high-octane" world of Hawaiian penguin surfing—where he falls in with Sheboygan surfer Chicken Joe (Jon Heder). Don't worry, parents, only you—and not your 5-year-old—will get that the chicken's stoned out of his gourd.

Kids will certainly appreciate the life lessons—"It's not the destination, it's the journey," "Winning isn't everything," etc. And they'll love all that surfing, which is astounding—and hilarious, if you can appreciate that the sight here of a penguin sailing through a scary-colossal "pipe" has more verisimilitude than the computer-generated head of Kate Bosworth on top of someone else's body in the go-for-it female surfer picture Blue Crush. Kids will also enjoy the motormouth otter surf promoter Reggie Belafonte, although he's even funnier if you imagine James Woods by himself in a little room babbling into the microphone. Ditto sexy gentoo-penguin lifeguard Lani Aliikai, who's much sexier if you replace her in your mind with her vocalist, Zooey Deschanel. Best of all is the washed-up champion surfer who tries to instruct Cody in Zen and the art of surfboard carving—his belligerence escalating with the younger penguin's every juvenile challenge. His scenes are to die for, but the death will be sweeter if you know that the irritable "Big Z" has the same inflections as Jeffrey "the Dude" Lebowski, and that this might be the closest we'll ever come to seeing Jeff Bridges again in his most celebrated performance. In short, the kids won't know how terrific Surf's Up is. —Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine