Surf’s Up

Putting the P in Penguin

Surf’s Up. A feature-length animation film with the voices of Jeff Bridges, Shia LaBeouf, and Zoey Deschanel in a film written by Lisa Adario and Christian Derren and directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

Certainly there’s a fine line between genius and cuckoo. In the world of animated filmmaking, perhaps we can even lend that delicate demarcation a little elasticity. But even considering the wacky factor, can somebody please explain to me why this funny, well-made cartoon needed a scene where Big Z (voiced by our own Jeff Bridges) non-explicitly but unmistakably pees on the foot of penguin protagonist Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf)? Is this, like, the golden dawn of anthropomorphic fetishism or merely the mark of a brave studio sensibility boldly going where even Shrek feared to tread?

Because up to this whizzy point, the film had a lot to recommend it: Surf’s Up needs no gross-out to round out its funny take on surfing and kiddie empowerment. The faux cinema “camera” work, the interview format, and the nicely written character banter make it plenty amusing for adults and kids alike.

Besides the sheer triumph of Cody, an Antarctic denizen drawn into a zany tropical surf contest, the film has ravishing visual details for youthful viewers. The ocean is rendered with subtle and dramatic textures. The characterizations-even the now requisite stoner sidekick, a chicken in this film-are intricately rounded and nicely memorable. Baffling urination scenes aside, they would probably make fine happy meal toys. Though, now, I’m not so sure.

It’s tempting to say it’s a lot of fun and leave it at that. However, I might ask one other nagging question, perhaps not unrelated. It’s a cool idea to animate surfing, but why penguins? Always with the penguins. Perhaps combining a mockumentary with soulful Antarctic dwellers helps draw favorable comparisons from two box-office leviathans, March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. I think the pee scene reflects actual Hollywood shame. Knowing they were working so derivatively, maybe the filmmakers decided to let go with a good one to shock the bourgeoisie. All I know is that Chilly Willy would be offended, and that’s a guy who really kn-kn-knew how to work b-b-blue.

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