'Surf's Up' Review: Radical!
Time for a trip down “lost to obscurity” lane folks, this week I got to review a criminally underrated mockumentary with a couple of twists. First, it’s an animated children’s film; second, it has Shia LaBeouf playing the lead role. So far so good right?
Scathing comments aside, Surf’s Up is a 2007 animated feature film about a penguin from Antarctica who travels across the globe to compete in an annual surf competition with other international penguins. Underdog Cody Maverick (LaBeouf) must find the courage to dethrone the egotistical and nine-year reigning champion Tank Evans. Cody wipes out in humiliating fashion and must find a mentor in his idol and presumed dead surf legend Big Z. At the end of the day, Cody jumps through all the heartwarming hoops a children’s film must check off and learns a valuable lesson.
Don't let the obligatory children's film nature of the movie turn you off, though. The reason this movie works exceptionally well isn’t because it’s a good kid’s flick. It’s because it’s an original take on the mockumentary format while also a good children’s movie. Making good use of the animated format, the film has the charm and whimsy of a Pixar production but the comedic undertones of a classic mockumentary. Interviews with colorful personalities from a money grubbing groundhog to a surfer bro chicken elevate the film to ridiculously absurd heights. Moreover, you have the believably clueless penguin chicks who act and talk like real toddlers and the old and dried up old dock worker penguins in the Arctic complaining about the “lazy generation.” That’s right millennials; the penguins feel your pain too.
Aside from making good use of its animated format, the film works well on other levels too. It features stellar voice work from LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges and Zoey Deschanel who all play their roles with infectious charisma. It also shines with a phenomenal soundtrack that will certainly be a real nostalgia trip for many to the good old Green Day and Fall Out Boy circa 2000’s. The writing is sharp and quick witted with enough laughs for kids and features more elaborate jokes for older audiences.
Though certainly original for a majority of its relatively short runtime, it’s not an entirely novel movie. The plot is disappointingly formulaic with an underdog competitor, a once great mentor who teaches the underdog in Mr. Miyagi fashion and a traditional romance side story. Though in all fairness, making a children’s film with a story more complicated than that can prove challenging and hard to grasp for many kids aged 4-12. All this movie hopes to do is stand on its laid back and lax humor enough to stand out from the rest of the animal-centric kids films. Something, in this critic’s opinion, it does very well.
Though it seems rushed at a runtime of just 1 hour and 25 minutes, Surf’s Up rarely falters and rides the animated tunnel with a carefree elegance. A tribute to surfing, 2000’s pop-rock and a time when Shia LaBeouf wasn’t crazy, Surf’s Up is fun for the whole family.