What if penguins could surf? Wouldn't that be like totally radical or something? Well, no, not so much, but try telling that to the boardroom full of clueless suits that green-lighted this dippy slab of CGI diversion about a big-time penguin surfing contest. Sure, surfing hasn't really seized the pop zeitgeist since Brian Wilson put a sand box in his living room, but penguins, well, duh; everybody knows those little waddling bastards are the hottest flightless waterfowl around. So suck on that, puffins.
While the producers will no doubt deny that the late arrival of Surf's Up has anything to do with the success of say, the real birds in March of the Penguins or the cartoon tap dancers of Happy Feet, they'll be more than happy to ride the crest of popularity for the best-dressed critters in the animal kingdom. The wave-riding angle is just an excuse to insert copious amounts of pseudo slacker indifference, and a wash of ESPN2-style extreme games 'tude to appeal to both tweens and jaded Gen-X parents.
To prove just what gnarly dudes they are, the multi-headed writing-directing team employs a mockumentary format a la The Office or Christopher Guest. It's a style that's quickly growing stale in live action, but is a pretty novel approach in animation. Making anthropomorphic CGI creatures live and breathe is hard enough, but also copying shaky camerawork adds an impressive degree of difficulty and visual dazzle.
The storyline isn't so cutting edge, unless its shapeless and slow middle is meant as a kind of postmodernist statement. It would also help if the hero penguin, Cody Maverick (Shia Le Bouf) weren't a petulant and thoroughly unlikable little twerp. If Cody weren't such a Poochie-like (Simpsons fans, are you with me?) annoyance, we could easily root for him as he sets off from Shiverpool, Antarctica, to the islands, in order to hang ten in memory of his fallen idol Big Z.
Jeff Bridges plays Z with typically awesome stoner elegance. It doesn't matter what silly, antic gags go on around him, Bridges delivers his lines like a harmonious beachcomber Buddha. The dude abides, and he along with the golden, honey-colored skylines and the gloriously rendered water keep Surf's Up from being just more summertime flotsam.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.