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Ash Brannon, Chris Buck
Shia LaBeouf, Jon Heder, James Woods, Mario Cantone, Zooey Deschanel, Jeff Bridges, Diedrich Bader, Kelly Slater
Writing Credits:
Lisa Addario, Christian Darren, Don Rhymer, Joe Syracuse

Hang six Summer 2007.

Surf's Up is an animated comedy that delves behind the scenes of the high-octane world of professional surfing. The film profiles teenage Rockhopper penguin Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), an up-and-coming surfer, as he enters his first pro competition. Followed by a camera crew to document his experiences, Cody leaves his family and home in Shiverpool, Antarctica to travel to Pen Gu Island for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off. Along the way, Cody meets surf nut Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), famous surf promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods), surf talent scout Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone), and spirited lifeguard Lani Aliikai (Zooey Deschanel), all of whom recognize Cody's passion for surfing, even if it sometimes goes too far. Cody believes that winning will bring him the admiration and respect he desires, but when he unexpectedly comes face-to-face with a washed-up old surfer named Geek (Jeff Bridges), Cody begins to find his own way, and discovers that a true winner isn't always the one who comes in first.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$17.640 million on 3528 screens.
Domestic Gross
$58.867 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 10/9/2007

• Audio Commentary with Directors Chris Buck and Ash Brannon and Producer Chris Jenkins
• Four Lost Scenes with Optional Filmmaker Introductions
• “Arnold’s Zurfinary”
• “All Together Now: Surf’s Up Voice Sessions” Featurette
• “Not a Drop of Real Water” Featurettes
• “Meet the Penguins” Featurette
• “The Secret Spot” Games
• Progression Reels
• Galleries
• “Lose Myself” Music Video
• Two ChubbChubbs Shorts
• Easter Egg
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Surf's Up: Special Edition (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 20, 2007)

For a while there, it looked like anything to do with penguins became a license to print money. First 2005’s March of the Penguins grossed $77 million in the US. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a cheap little documentary, it was phenomenal. Then 2006’s animated Happy Feet made nearly $200 million despite the fact it wasn’t very good.

Into this arena of “sure things” stepped 2007’s Surf’s Up, another animated tale about those wingless birds to our south. This went met with less success, however. Despite some prime summer movie schedule real estate, it didn’t live up to economic expectations. Up took in a decidedly mediocre $58 million, a figure that had to disappoint all involved.

So did Up deserve a better fate? Yeah, probably. While not a classic, Up entertains.

The film introduces us to Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), a penguin who aspires to follow the role model of the late Zeke “Big Z” Topanga and become a great surfer. As a crew shoots a documentary, we learn why he wants to achieve this goal and also get to know his circumstances. That means we meet his mother Edna (Dana L. Belben) and bullying big brother Glen (Brian Posehn); they give us an idea that most folks don’t accept Cody and his dream.

From there we shift to the 10th Big Z Memorial Surf Off. Tank “The Shredder” Evans (Diedrich Bader) won the last nine, but sea otter surf promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods) – via his put-upon sandpiper assistant Mike Abromowitz (Mario Cantone) – seeks the next big thing, a challenger to take on Tank. Guess who he finds? Cody – duh! The kid heads to Pen Gu Island for the competition. He also befriends a fellow surfer named Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) and falls in love with lifeguard Lani (Zooey Deschanel). We follow Cody’s arc as he tries to win over Lani and become a champion – as tutored by mysterious mentor “The Geek” (Jeff Bridges).

Here’s what you won’t find in Surf’s Up: anything innovative or surprising. The film follows the modern animation template almost to a tee. We get the usual wisecracks and borderline risqué humor, all pumped out at a pretty fast pace. There’s a cast of celebrities and a mix of rock songs. (Gotta say it really surprised me to hear Pearl Jam in there, though!) It lacks the same level of modern pop culture references that often crop up in these flicks – which is a good thing – but there’s not much else about the film that I can say makes it stand out when compared to its contemporaries.

Except for this: it’s really pretty good. Animated movies these days tend to be hit or miss, with more misses than hits in my opinion. Many of the successes tend to be qualified ones, and we find more than a few duds along the way. Really, there are so darned many CG animated movies on the market these days that it’s no wonder we find so many stinkers.

So what makes Up more entertaining than most? I already alluded to it, but the paucity of pop culture references comes as a pleasant surprise. No, Up doesn’t totally eliminate these, but it could’ve gone much more wild with them, especially given the sports-related setting. Too often, animated pictures toss out pop references via the random, nonsensical Family Guy model; they’re more about recognition than they are humor. I’m pleased that Up avoids that cheap source of attempted comedy.

I also like the way that Up actually tries to tell a story and develop its characters. There’s absolutely nothing unusual or remarkable about the situations or personalities, but at least the movie attempts to form them. Though they’re not the most refined characterizations, they seem more complete than usual, and we grow to care about the participants.

A fine voice cast helps in that domain. With big roles in Disturbia and Transformers as well as Up, it became tough to avoid LaBeouf in 2007. Despite that potential overexposure, LaBeouf remains likable and engaging. He allows Cody to be a worthy protagonist and avoids turning him into a whiny sap. Bridges is also amusing as the surfing guru, and even the usually annoying Heder is charming as the requisite wacky sidekick.

The documentary style is kind of fun, though the movie doesn’t follow through with it on a perfectly consistent basis. Most of the shots do feel like part of a documentary, but many of them don’t make sense within that framework. It’s a gimmick that the filmmakers utilize at their convenience, but it’s good when it works.

While at no point does Surf’s Up threaten to become a classic animated film, it entertains. It sticks within the genre’s usual restrictions but still manages to feel acceptably creative. This is a likable little flick.

Credits footnote: stick through the end to see a little coda with Cody’s family.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Surf’s Up appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Because it used a faux documentary style, it became tough to objectively rate the visuals of Up.

That said, the movie looked pretty good most of the time. Softness occasionally took a hit, though, as some wide shots appeared a little soft and ill-defined. Those were infrequent but they did create a few minor distractions. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement looked absent. As for source flaws, the film was clean. Some intentional “print defects” did appear – such as grain - but I didn’t count them.

Colors seemed positive. The documentary presentation made them a little more subdued than usual, but they still came across as pretty lively and dynamic. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows were less consistent. Again, the documentary impression meant that lighting wasn’t always stellar; the movie appeared to want to give us an “on the fly” look, so shadows could be somewhat thick. Overall, I thought the visuals were good enough for a “B”, but they didn’t excel.

Despite the tone of the visuals, Surf’s Up presented the standard big and impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The documentary feel didn’t affect the audio at all, as the mix presented a good impression. The soundfield always gave us a nice sense of environment, and the big surfing sequences proved impressive. They used all five channels to involve us in a action. Other scenes showed decent spread as well, and music offered solid stereo imaging.

Audio quality was always good. Music sounded lively and dynamic, and speech seemed positive. The lines were natural and concise; no edginess or other problems materialized. Effects came across as full and rich, with clean highs and tight bass. This was a consistently good soundtrack.

When we head to the DVD’s extras, we start with an audio commentary from directors Chris Buck and Ash Brannon and producer Chris Jenkins. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. At the start, we learn why they chose the documentary format and related concerns. The track also looks at cast, characters and performances, animation issues, story and deleted/altered scenes, music, surf research and inspirations, and a few other technical issues.

Some animation commentaries become awfully dry, but this one stays enjoyable. The guys don’t bog us down in tech minutiae, and we find quite a lot of good notes about the creative side of things such as the decision to record the actors together, a step not usually taken in animation. This is a consistently informative and likable track.

Four Lost Scenes run a total of We find “Doris and Sheila” (0:48), “Pen-Gu: Island of Adventure” (0:58), “Z Is for Zurfing” (1:04) and “Doris and Sheila: Behind the Scenes” (2:14). The first three come to us via story reels; no finished animation appears. “Scenes” is less a deleted scene than it is a look at the recording session with Mindy Sterling and Jane Krakowski, the actors who played cut characters Doris and Sheila. They act out a scene not in the flick, but it doesn’t come as even a story reel; we just watch them perform.

Based on the evidence here, it’s too bad Doris and Sheila didn’t make the flick. They were supposed to be Z’s groupies, and their sequences are fun. “Pen-Gu” offers a tacky – and amusing – Reggie Belafonte promotion film, while “Zurfing” shows the cheesy side gigs Reggie made Z take back in the day. All the clips are enjoyable.

We can watch the scenes with or without option introductions from Buck, Brannon and Jenkins. They tell us a little about the segments and why the pieces didn’t make the final film. It serves the same purpose as a commentary, and it informs well.

An odd piece, Arnold’s Zurfinary runs four minutes, 10 seconds. The movie’s young Arnold character teaches us how to speak like a surfer. It’s harmless but not particularly interesting.

Some featurettes follow. All Together Now: Surf’s Up Voice Sessions goes for 17 minutes, two seconds as it presents notes from Brannon, Buck, and actors Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, Mario Cantone, Diedrich Bader, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Sal Masekela, Dana Belben, Reed Buck, Reese Elowe, and Jack P. Ranjo. They discuss recording the actors and how they achieved their performances. Though the piece often feels more than a little self-congratulatory, I do enjoy the shots from the recording studio. We also get quite a few nice insights into improvs and other performance elements.

Not a Drop of Real Water breaks into three subdomains. We get “Surf Cam” (7:24), “Making Waves” (12:55) and “Storyboard to Surfboard” (2:00). “Cam” features Brannon, Buck, Heder, LaBeouf, Bader, co-producer Lydia Bottegoni, head of layout James Williams, CG supervisor Bert Van Brande, and production designer Paul Lasaine. It looks at the film’s camera work and how it achieved its documentary look.

“Waves” includes Buck, Brannon, Jenkins, Bader, Machado, Slater, Bridges, LaBeouf, visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, animation supervisor David Schaub, supervising animators Chad Stewart and Pete Nash, lighting technical director Darren Fisher, animators Jeff Schu and Dougg Williams, lead lighting artist Michael Sandrik, character setup supervisor Mike Ford, effects animation supervisor Matt Hausman, wave setup lead Erick Miller, and wave animation lead John Clark. It discusses the animation of the waves and all the issues that went into that area. Finally, “Surfboard” gives us a multiangle option. It lets you watch a part of the film via these choices: storyboards; rough layout; animation; feathers and fur; effects; and final film. We can also view a “progression reel” that shows all six in order of completion.

All of the “Drop” components are quite good. We learn about the movie’s innovations; the parts about the camera work are especially intriguing. “Surfboard” also offers a cool look at the different stages of animation. Definitely check out these pieces.

For the final featurette, Meet the Penguins fills three minutes, 52 seconds and shows a couple of real penguins as they visit the production. Why? I have no idea, as they’re not used for reference material. It’s a cutesy program without much value.

Under the banner of The Secret Spot, we get three games. “Make Your Own Surfboard” allows you to design a board – sort of. You can choose length, shape and color and then see Cody ride a crudely animated version of your product. It’s kind of lame, though I like that Bridges and LaBeouf provide fresh voice-over for it.

“Whale Hopping” offers a simple arrow-clicking game. It gets old pretty quickly and offers little fun. Finally, the “Lava Surf Game” gives us a “Dragon’s Lair” style directional contest. Don’t expect much entertainment here either. (By the way, Reed Buck and Zooey Deschanel do extra voice work for the other games, but the “Chicken Joe” heard here and elsewhere doesn’t sound like Heder.)

Next we find five minutes and 18 seconds of Progression Reels. Visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow narrates as he leads us through the many components that go into various animation pieces. It’s a good examination of the effects elements in the movie.

When we head to the Galleries, we locate two areas. We find “Characters” (16 frames) and “Locations” (27). Both are too short, but they offer a mix of interesting elements.

After this we get a music video for “Lose Myself” by Lauryn Hill. It’s a cheap video, as it just matches movie clips to the song. At least the tune’s not too bad; I won’t want to hear it a ton, but it’s listenable in the “Hey Ya!” vein.

Next we get two ChubbChubbs Shorts. The first one – just called “The ChubbChubbs” – ran with Men in Black II and appeared on that DVD as well as on its own. Since I already reviewed it in both places, I won’t say much here other than that it’s a clever and entertaining piece.

The disc provides a new adventure called “The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas”. In this one, Meeper the aliens tries to find a home for the cute little Chubbchubbs. He sees an ad for the North Pole and chooses it. Unfortunately, he injures Santa and then needs to deliver the toys. It’s not as fun as the original, but it has some good bits and mostly delivers the goods.

At least one Easter egg can be found. Click left on the “Lost Scenes” screen to highlight Cody’s surfboard. Press “enter” to see a 24-second clip that tells us where to find Meeper in Surf’s Up.

Speaking of semi-hidden features, if you let the main menu run and don’t do anything, eventually the characters will pester you. We get material from the movie’s actors recorded just for that purpose, and that makes it fun. It’s not unique, but it’s still enjoyable.

Some ads open the DVD. We find promos for The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, Daddy Day Camp, Storm Hawks, Spider-Man 3, and Monster House. These also appear in the Previews area along with clips for Open Season, Open Season 2, Are We Done Yet?, Holly Hobbie and Friends, The Last Day of Summer/Shredderman Rules! and It’s a Big Big World.

I didn’t expect much from yet another penguin movie, but Surf’s Up proves surprisingly winning. No, it reinvents no wheels and doesn’t ever become anything truly special, but it’s fun and entertaining. The DVD offers decent picture as well as good audio and a mix of nice extras. This release takes a likable movie and presents it well.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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