Surf's Up crashes into cinemas

Surf's Up; Featutring the voices of: Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, Diedrich Bader; Dir: Ash Brannon, Chris Buck; Cert: PG; 1hr 25mWe've had marching penguins, penguins with happy feet, mob-style penguins from Madagascar and now we have surfing penguins in this clever animated comedy.

By Andrew Clarke

Surf's Up; Featutring the voices of: Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, Diedrich Bader; Dir: Ash Brannon, Chris Buck; Cert: PG; 1hr 25m

We've had marching penguins, penguins with happy feet, mob-style penguins from Madagascar and now we have surfing penguins in this clever animated comedy. Surf's Up is a towering technical achievement - the animation is superb. The characterisation is believable, if a little clichéd, and the rendering of the water and beach scenes is impressive… but it's difficult to see who this film is really targeted at.

There is so much talk at the start of the film that younger audiences will become restless and the subject matter is so wrapped up in surf culture that it really doesn't strike a chord with those of us living in the chilly, wet British Isles.


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Surf's Up comes across as a smart satire rather than a frothy family comedy. It's also a film of two halves. The first part is presented as a fly-on-the-wall reality TV documentary with an unseen camera crew asking questions of a young surfer penguin Cody Maverick (LaBeouf) and interviewing his family.

Cody explains how his love of surfing was inspired by the arrival to his hometown of Shiverpool by surf legend Big Z (Jeff Bridges). Big Z gave the young Cody an inspiring medallion which he has worn ever since in his efforts to emulate his hero.

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This triggers the best part of the film some fun faded, scratched footage of the early days of surfing and some suitably impressive vintage moments of Big Z in action - all animated of course.

What makes this work is the fact that directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck remain true to the notion that penguins do surf and their surf culture has been growing since the late 1950s and 60s.

The camera crew then record Cody's efforts to gain a place in the world's most prestigious surfing contest The Big Z Memorial Challenge.

The film then shifts gear and becomes an animated of live US sports coverage completed with station logo in the corner of the screen, action replays and reporters sticking flippers in their ears and reporting from the beach. The documentary crew are still about for those non-competition moments when Cody discovers that perhaps he is not as good as he thinks he is and is in need of a mentor.

The comedy light relief is provided by spaced-out Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) and the fast talking Surf promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods) an otter who is clearly based on boxing promoter Don King.

As always there has to be a love interest and this is provided by a slim-line life guard Lani ( Zooey Deschanel) who wanders up and down the beach clutching a bright red cuttlefish like a penguin Baywatch extra.

I suspect that if we regularly saw surfing contests on television and had more of a surfing culture in the UK we may get more from this movie because everything comes across as being highly thought about and the animation has been executed with a great deal of care. The problem is that we don't really get the satire because we don't understand enough about the target of the humour.

Surf's Up is an engaging movie but exhibits a smile to yourself in the darkness feel rather than triggering a laugh-out-loud response.

This is a lovingly put together film but surfing like baseball is a fairly obscure sport in the UK and is unlikely to trigger a rush to the box office.

Children will enjoy the characters - particularly Chicken Joe and Reggie Belafonte - but will not relish the slow, talky build-up during the first half of the film. Older audiences will marvel at the animation, appreciate the love and attention that has gone into the film but will be disappointed that cultural stereotypes have been mistaken for genuinely funny characters. Pixar's crown is still intact even after their mis-step with Cars.

***

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