Wednesday, June 20, 2007

SURF'S UP: Hang 10 There, Dudes!

SURF'S UP (animated comedy)
Cast (voices): Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, Diedrich Bader
Directors: Ash Bannon and Chris Buck
Time: 85 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Penguins have been making their presence felt in the cinema over the past few years. They stole the show in "Madagascar" (2005), stole our hearts in "March Of The Penguins" (2005) and got our feet tapping last year in "Happy Feet". This time around, they are taking to the waves on surf-boards in this animated feature that masquerades as a ‘mockumentary’. Oh yes, did I mention that it is the conceit of this movie that penguins invented surfing? Why, they even have cave drawings to prove it!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? "Surf’s Up" is the story of young Cody Maverick (voice of Shia LaBeouf) whose ambition is to be a champion surfer, just like his mentor and all-time hero Big Z (Jeff Bridges). When Cody is ‘discovered’ in his native Shiverpool in the Antarctica and ‘whisked’ off to Pen Gu island for the Big Z Memorial Surf-off tournament, he entertains hopes that he would follow in the footsteps of Big Z and make a name for himself.
He makes friends with fellow competitor Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) and a coy life-guard named Lani (Zooey Deschanel). However, an encounter with Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader), the defending champ and nine-time winner of the surf-off, seemingly puts an end to his dreams of surfing grandeur. What remains is Cody’s new relationship with Lani’s uncle, Geek, a laid-back former surfing champ who reluctantly tutors Cody the way Mr Miyagi did in "The Karate Kid".

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS: The mock-documentary style of story-telling may not work well with young children at whom this comedy is targeted. However, the reality TV approach allows the scripters to weave some character-parodies into the plot fabric. The most notable of these is the spiky-haired otter, Reggie Belafonte (voiced by the gruff James Woods), an animated version of fight-promoter Don King.

Another plus for the movie is the chemistry between LaBeouf and Bridges, both on-screen and in the soundtrack. Their Karate Kid-styled relationship is credible and engaging enough to make us root for them. And then there is the comic relief subplot involving Chicken Joe who steals the show whenever he appears, especially in his encounters with a tribe of chicken-loving critters. On the technical side, there are some ups and downs in this effort by directors Bannon and Buck who had formerly worked with Disney Studios. The water and waves visuals look very real while the animation of some minor characters fall below par, especially when compared to those of "Shrek The Third". Also, the relationship between Cody and Lani could have been further developed, especially for the romantics in the audience.

THE LOWDOWN: To round up, let me state that "Surf’s Up" is not a story about penguins. It is about having fun and playing the game, which is more important than winning. So if you feel like taking the plunge, hit the waves and hang ten there, dudes!


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