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June 11, 2007 |

By Agent Bedhead | Film | June 11, 2007 |

Surf’s Up takes place within a parallel universe where penguins alone inhabit the Earth, the occasional chicken and hedgehog notwithstanding. The film rolls within a mockumentary style of narrative with a penguin camera crew, and the action commences within the frigid Antarctic climate of Shiverpool, Antarctica. Our young protagonist, Cody Maverick (Shia LeBeouf), just wants to get the hell out his small-time, fish-throwing life, where the only surfboards are made of ice chunks. Enticed by the surfing legend of Big Z, Cody decides that he wants to be a winner in life and chases that dream to the beaches of Pen Gu Island to compete in the Big Z Memorial Surf-Off. When he arrives, however, the poor little guy finds himself utterly incapable of riding the waves and loses consciousness in a series of wipe-outs and a subsequent sea-creature sting. Cody is rescued by toothsome lifeguard Loni (Zooey Deschanel). She drags Cody through the forest to the home of a mysterious recluse penguin named Geek (Jeff Bridges), whose cure involves promptly urinating on the wee penguin. This noxious deed is actually done fairly tastefully, all things considered, and most of the younger audience members won’t even realize that someone is, uh, getting peed upon.

In the days leading up to the surfing contest, Geek mentors Cody to prepare him for competition against the reigning champion, Tank “The Shredder” Evans (Diedrich Bader), who demonstrates a seriously erotic interest in his trophy collection. While pornlike music plays in the background, Tank introduces his “ladies” with names such as Helga, Chaniqua, and “my dirty girl.” Interspersed throughout the movie are some mildly amusing interview soundbites from Cody’s family, some reality-based surfers (Kelly Slater and Ralph Machado), and a trio of children obsessed with bodily functions. The camera crew is particularly interested in the notion of what it means to be a winner, which as it turns out, is the ultimate lesson explored by Surf’s Up.

Perhaps the most gratifying detail of Surf’s Up is that the cast isn’t all Hugh Jackmaned up with the usual Hollywood A-listers in manner of Happy #@%#ing Feet. Nowadays, the likes of Robin Williams and Nicole Kidman can take a break from the grueling moviemaking lifestyle and stroll into the awesomely easy and over-credited task of voicing an animated character. A few weeks with a microphone translates into a coordinated, negotiated, and highly coveted seven-figure salary for these stars. As a result, celebrity names have migrated from a film’s ending credits to top billing on promotional posters. Does this practice help ticket sales? Undoubtedly. Yet some voices just aren’t suited to come out of a cute little animal’s head. For example, ever since my daughter became enthralled with the Stuart Little trilogy, mice no longer scare me for their disease-breeding potential. Now they terrify the crap out of me because I’m afraid one will open its mouth and speak in the voice of Alex P. Keaton — that’s the real stuff of nightmares.

While Surf’s Up isn’t entirely celebrity free, the star quotient is at a manageable level. The biggest name is Bridges, whose reputation and notoriety seems firmly entrenched within the role of Dude from the The Big Lebowski. He’s not a traditional leading actor or a high-profile Hollywood player with an entourage in tow, but Bridges’ voice is far more adaptable to children’s films, since it doesn’t distract from the film itself. Also to Bridges’ credit is his veteran voice status earned within The Last Unicorn, which for better or worse, served as the prototype for future children’s CGI films (of course, that occurred back in the days when appearing in a children’s film was an altruistic, low-paying gig). Filling out the cast is B-lister and fratboy masturbation material Jon Heder, and because I don’t live in a universe inhabited with the likes of Napoleon Dynamite, I simply pretended that the character of Chicken Joe was voiced by an extra from Night at the Museum.

Visually, the film’s effects are spectacular, with intensely vivid colors and textures; during the surfing sequences, the water animation creates huge, blue waves that lend themselves pretty well to the feeling of riding the tube. Similarly impressive is the joyride sequence through the volcanic tunnels that feature pools of glimmering lava (and glo-worm poop). The action is accompanied by a pretty kickin’ soundtrack helmed by Green Day, and despite some mild language and crude humor, the characters are rather well-developed.

Indeed, as the mother of a six-year-old, I can testify to my unwitting overexposure to the realm of children’s films, and one could definitely suffer worse fates than enduring Surf’s Up. The film runs a mercifully short 81 minutes and, hopefully, will exhaust Hollywood’s current penguin fetish. Next up: mountain-climbing meerkats from Mars.

Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and tries to avoid reality at all costs. She also insults pop culture daily at

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