The Bigger Picture: Kids love penguins. And kids love surfing. So why not a kids’ movie about…wait for it…surfing penguins. Genius! Despite a high concept born of demographic analyses and marketing reports, this shamelessly commercial vehicle is a fairly amusing bit of lightweight family-friendly entertainment.
Young Cody dreams of being an awesome surfer, just like his (supposedly) deceased idol, Big Z. So when a surf scout scours Antarctica for new talent, Cody leaps (marches? dances?) at the chance. He travels to Pen Gu Island and enters the Big Z Memorial Surf Off—but wipes out during an early round. Bummer.
He’s rescued by lovely lifeguard Lani (Zooey Deschanel), who introduces him to her uncle, a washed-up surfer (Jeff Bridges). Predictably, the old dude is actually Big Z, and more predictably, he trains Cody in surfing and offers wise lessons about winning. Anyone who’s seen any underdog sports movie—underpenguin, in this case—knows where this is headed.
Bridges brings more than a little of The Big Lebowski to Big Z, and it’s great to have The Dude back. The playful friendship that develops between mentor and student gives the movie much of its charm.
In addition to rad surfing sequences, Surf’s Up features a documentary/reality-TV approach, with the animation emulating that visual style. It’s a smart choice that energizes the flick, though the script fails to take full advantage of the mockumentary’s comic possibilities.
So, what’s next? Penguins that race cars, do martial arts, or perform magic? Heyyy…I’m sooo gonna pitch those!
The 180—a Second Opinion: If all these tuxedoed fowl make you cry foul, you probably don’t wanna dive into this “major ocean picture.” Ditto if you’re ticked off by kids’ flicks that stoop to poop and fart jokes—they just, well, reek of desperation. Or something.