Friday, June 29, 2007

Allen's Brain reviews "Surf's Up!"

“Surf’s Up!” is a fun movie. I dragged a friend of mine to go see it, and undoubtedly enjoyed it more than he did. But, come on! Penguins (and one chicken) surfing! What could be better than that? Well, okay, lots of things…

“Surf’s Up!” is, in one sense, an homage to the surf movies of the 60s. (I mean, of course, the 1960s. The surf movies of the 1860’s were awful.) You have the surf competition; the young, misunderstood rebel who just wants to be recognized for his surfing abilities, and not for his slacker demeanor in his Antarctic village of Shiverpool. You have the utterly oblivious, stoner surfer “Whoa, Dude!” character who provides comic relief. You have the seemingly-unbeatable champion surfer who must be challenged, and is—of course—a complete jerk. You have the washed-up, laid-back beach bum/ Zen master of surfing to mentor the young rebel. You have the cute (by penguin standards) love interest. You have surf-rock guitar music accompanying plenty of gnarly surfing footage. (Especially worth watching is a subterranean, volcanic cave surf sequence reminiscent of the mine cart scenes in “Temple of Doom.”) In short, it’s a 60’s surf movie—except with penguins (and yes, one chicken.)

One of the things that makes the whole film work, for me, is that “Surf’s Up!” takes the form of a documentary film about Cody—the young rebel surfer. It’s a documentary of the sort that you might find on ESPN, complete with “old” scratchy, color-uncorrected footage of penguin surfer great “Big Z” and the history of surfing with footage spoofing old newsreels of “the new surfing craze”—again, all done with penguins. (Did I mention the penguins—and one chicken?)

Then, of course, there is the great story of the relationship between Cody and “Geek.” Cody grew up without a dad, because, like lots of other penguins, his father was eaten by a killer whale. He claims this isn’t important to him, but it eventually becomes apparent—without being heavy-handed or sappy—that this lack of a father figure is very key to his worldview. His best friend at the surf competition is Chicken Joe, a chicken who also lost his father (who became a 6-piece bucket), and is the only one in his community (of Sheboygan, WI) who cares about surfing, too. When Cody gets to know the beach bum, Geek, he draws him out of his life of hiding away from the world, but the relationship gradually takes on a mentoring feel, and before long, it’s more like a father-son relationship.

For those interested in the socially-positive aspects of a movie, there are lessons on enjoying life vs obsession with winning; the importance of fathers; people being more important than success; and the folly of trying to hide from your past. Also, there’s the lesson that surfing is really, really cool!

And, at an hour-and-a-half, if it’s not perfect, at least it’s not too long!

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