It's easy to roll your eyes when you see yet another animated movie starring talking animals, and what more, talking penguins. Guess you can credit the popularity of our feathered friends from down south to award winning films like the documentary which started it all, March of the Penguins, and the other animated movies Madagascar (where they were scene stealers) and Happy Feet. But before you actually decide to pass on this one, Surf's Up a surprisingly refreshing tale set in the bright sunny beaches with laid back "dude" attitude, which doesn't seem to try too hard to please, and comes up just about right.
One of the good things about the movie is the voice talent featured. Like Happy Feet, it contains some recognizable names, but just as a reminder to our Legend of the Sea friends, big names doesn't necessarily equate to good voice acting. Shia LeBeouf (a name which we will see quite frequently over the next few months with Transformers and Disturbia) gets the lead role of Cody Maverick, a surfer penguin wannabe who dreams of making it big in the surfing community. His idol is Big Z (Jeff Bridges), a world champion who had made an impression on a young Cody. However, Big Z is presumed missing in action during one competition, and the new world champion, Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader) looks set to retain his status for the umpteenth time.
The supporting characters too are a delight, with Zooey Deschanel as a Baywatch lifeguard babe and James Woods as a sports tzar, and Jon Heder continues his stereotype by playing Cody's new best friend Chicken Joe, a chilled out surfing chicken who finds himself at probably the wrong place each time and associating with the wrong species.
What made this movie work is that the filmmakers recognize they have to come up with a narrative style that is different in order to engage, and given that it's a sports type movie, they went for a sports entertainment channel style, complete with replicating camera techniques including details like less than perfect wireless camera transmissions (love those on-board cameras, nevermind if it doesn't make complete sense or is illogical), over the top channel transition sequences, and you just gotta love those faux pas interviews with just about every character. If you can't get enough of baby penguins, the filmmakers too are shrewd enough to include these crowd favourite characters in endearing scenes.
With Father's Day mood all round, this movie is apt too for the season, given its theme of family, and bonding with (surrogate) father types. The humour injected ranges wide, from subtle lines and references, to the more obvious physical slapstick moments. I can't resist but to again advise our Legend of the Sea friends, this is what computer animation is about, with its depiction of photo realistic quality of the sun, sand and the sea, with realistic surfer moves, a simple story yet packed with adequate thematic moments, with song and music that don't irritate, but serve to move the narrative along smartly.
Recommended animated movie, despite the overused penguin characters. Stay until after the end credits for a short scene (there's also one played during the credits, so don't walk out of the hall just yet).