Sunday, June 10, 2007

Surf's Up

Title: Surf's Up (2007)
Dir: Ash Brannon, Chris Buck
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Believe it or not, a CGI movie about surfing penguins is actually pretty good. Surf's Up has drawn some unfair comparisons to Happy Feet, but it is a lot smarter and funnier than it looks.

Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) is a penguin with big dreams. He lives on a glacier, but he wishes to compete in the annual Penguin World Surfing Championship on Pen-Gu Island. Then one day, a talent scout (a sea otter voiced by James Woods, of all things) makes Cody's dream come true by letting him compete. While on the island, the little penguin befriends a stoner-like surfer named Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) and the pretty lifeguard, Lani (Zooey Deschanel). Lani introduces him to an aging surfer named Geek (Jeff Bridges) who helps train Cody for the competition.

There are two major things that distinguish Surf's Up from generic animated films:

1) It is shot like a mockumentary. The "camera crew" follows Cody around, documenting his rise to fame as a surfing star, complete with interviews and stock footage along the way. Much of the film's humor stems from this style, and I thought it was delightfully original.

2) The voice actors performed together. This may not sound like a big deal, but trust me, it makes a huge difference. Usually, voice actors record their lines at different times and the parts are edited together. On the contrary, the leads in Surf's Up recorded their scenes in one room together just like on-screen actors. And it payed off, as you can really feel their chemistry shine through. This was especially the case with LaBeouf and Bridges, whose conversations felt so effortless and funny that it was like watching real characters, not just computer-generated birds.

The film is very cute, and has more adult-aimed humor than I expected. Diedrich Bader in particular has some hilarious lines as the villainous bully, Tank. All the voice actors did a great job, my personal favorites being Shia and Jeff who are both so lovable and funny here. Oh, and I should mention the animation - it's beautiful. It's not as technologically advanced as Pixar's work, but some of the surfing shots are breathtaking. Do not be quick to judge this film, it may just surprise you as it did me.