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Cartoon folly

Movies | Surf's Up's unique elements won't keep parents from squirming

Issue: "Crossing borders," June 23, 2007

It isn't clear what demographic Sony had in mind for their surfing penguin mockumentary, Surf's Up (rated PG for mild language and some rude humor). But one thing is for sure, they couldn't have been thinking of children.

Despite an innovative approach and top notch voice-over work from its cast, many of Surf's Up's jokes are too subtle for children to appreciate. Others draw laughs for entirely the wrong reasons, as in one fairly explicit scene where one penguin urinates on another. Kids may giggle, but parents will be left squirming.

The film isn't without its charms-amongst a field of reheated sequels and overt ripoffs, Surf's Up deserves credit for finding a new way to illustrate an old children's story saw. An unseen documentary crew follows Cody Maverick (Shia LeBeouf), a young wave-rider from his hometown of Shiverpool, Antarctica, to a surfing championship on tropical Pen-Gu island.

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Along for the ride is a new friend, Chicken Joe (Jon Heder, with the most winning performance audiences have seen from him since Napoleon Dynamite), a new love (Zooey Deschanel) and a mysterious mentor (Jeff Bridges). Together, they show Cody that winning isn't everything and that sometimes you have to put others before yourself if you want to enjoy the ride.

On the surface, this may not sound like a particularly original idea, but director Ash Brannon handles the "documentary" framing device so well, adults may forget they are watching a cartoon. The problem is Brannon also apparently forgot he was making one.

At one point, the otter promoting the contest (James Woods doing his best Don King impersonation) stands up out of a hot tub and the screen goes blurry below his waist-a supposedly comical suggestion of full-frontal nudity. Later another character repeatedly uses a popular euphemism for sexual self-gratification. The eight- and nine-year-olds in my screenings didn't get it, but, based on their loud guffaws, the teenagers sure did.

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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