Teenage Rockhopper penguin Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), an up-and-coming surfer, 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 Sheboygan surfer Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), famous surf promoter Reggie Belafonte, surf talent scout Mikey Abromowitz, and spirited lifeguard Lani Aliikai (Zooey Deschanel), all of whom recognize Cody's passion for surfing, even if it's a bit misguided at times. 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, Cody begins to find his own way, and discovers that a true winner isn't always the one who comes in first.
For more about Surf's Up and the Surf's Up Blu-ray release, see Surf's Up Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on October 6, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Every Saturday morning, children tune in to cartoons. I did. I looked forward to it all week. But I never saw anything like the new CGI films from Pixar and other animation companies. Sony Pictures Animation and Imageworks are not far behind Pixar, which is regarded as the state of the art. So on a nice, cool Saturday morning, I slipped Surf's Up into the PS3 and rediscovered what this time of the week is all about, Blu-ray style. With the now-familiar 1080p stellar picture quality, and rich vibrant colors we have come to expect from BDs, the look of Surf's Up is far beyond the NTSC cartoons I watched when I was a kid.
Surf's Up is a story of a young penguin who learns valuable lessons about life through his obsession with surfing.
Fashioned to be a spoof of sports documentaries, Surf's Up follows a young rockhopper penguin, Cody (Shia LaBeouf), who is obsessed with surfing. He dreams of leaving his boring home in Shiverpool, Antarctica to rise in the ranks of professional surfers, although no one in Shiverpool believes he can make it happen. As the plot takes off, Cody convinces a team of recruiters that he is worthy of entry into the "Big Z Memorial Surf Off" contest on tropical Pen Gu Island. He quickly crosses paths with the reining champ, a bully who challenges Cody to a wave-riding contest that proves too dangerous for the young rockhopper.
Unconscious and defeated, Cody is taken to the jungle shack of Geek (Jeff Bridges) where he is healed. He then undergoes a process of discovery, learning what it means to be a surfer, to persevere and to strive for integrity. By the end, Surf's Up dishes out a nice morality lesson for the kids without taking itself too seriously. It heaps up humor and "hang sixes" (since penguins only have three toes on each foot) by sticking with the documentary style in all the right places. The fowl characters are easy to relate to and well-defined. It all comes together in a hilarious and wholesome, wet and whacky animated adventure.
From the textures of jungle foliage to slick ice to the sheen of penguin feathers and the reflectivity of water, the video and animation quality of Surf's Up are top notch. In CGI worlds, I look for a semblance of weight or gravity in the characters and objects. The animators of Surf's Up did an admirable job rendering movement, waves and objects to appear to carry heft. The goal wasn't realism, but just a sense of mass in the visual proceedings to take it a step beyond the average animation. Watch the jungle scenes, with the way the foliage moves and the light filters through the canopy, affecting different surfaces in different ways. Or the surf competition in which we go "in the tube" and watch spray, foam and various textures encompass the screen. All is rendered and reproduced on blu-ray with excellence.
The MPEG-4 codec delivers gobs of detail. I notice a great deal of fine film grain. This ran counter to my expectations of seeing a washed-out, glitzy, overly post-produced picture. Heavy over-production is not the case here. The 1.85:1 image was solid, with good contrast and deep blacks. The colors were vibrant, but not annoyingly so. While CGI never seems particularly convincing in its cheap illusion of depth, kids will get lost in the lush videostage.
The voices had much to do with the charm of Surf's Up. With actors as familiar as Jeff Bridges and James Woods, the filmmakers did a good job matching the animated animals' personalities to the voice. It was amusing that the penguin matched to Jeff Bridges' voice was an older, burned out character living outside societal norms, not totally unlike Bridges' portrayal of Jeffrey Lebowski more than 10 years ago.
The voices and sound effects achieved good definition and strong midrange clarity. On this BD, Sony went beyond most expectations by including both uncompressed PCM and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks. Unfortunately, these are based on a 16-bit, 48 kHz master, so the overall sound is not much better than run-of-the-mill CD quality. It therefore may not be the best material to evaluate the differences between these two types of tracks. Clearly, the PCM and TrueHD are each more than sufficient for the average HT buff, let alone the average youngster who will be watching this material. I would have liked more use of the LFE and surround channels, particularly with big waves, and the pop rock and reggae soundtrack, which added to the atmosphere, was assigned to all the channels. But overall the audio was very good.
Surf's Up boasts a cornucopia of special features and bonus material. These extras go far beyond
the typical "deleted scenes" and "photo galleries" normally included with movies. Of special note
are two "Chubbchubbs" animated short movies: the 2002 Acadamy Award Winner (Best Short
Animated Film), The Chubbchubbs and the new sequel, The Chubbchubbs Save Xmas. Both are
sure to delight fans of animation, particularly children of course.
Young viewers will also be interested in the a Surf's Up pinball game. Other content includes a
music video by Laurn Hill called "Lose Myself", a special on the penguins entitled "Meet the
Penguins", the Surf's Up voice sessions, a quick guide to the lingo called "Arnold's Zurfinary" and
some insight into the visuals. "Not a Drop of Real Water" shows how the animators developed
the visuals for perspectives like the surf cam and multi-angle sequences, as well as generating
CGI waves that appear very convincing. Rounding out the features are progression reels,
filmmaker commentary and visual effects commentary, all of which improved my understanding
of how the film and CGI are produced.
Surf's Up is an enjoyable film for the whole family, from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent. There is not a dark or disturbing character or sequence in the entire story and it is filled with excitement and adventure. The characters and voices are fun and the animation is lively and cute, with plenty of "wow" factor. The filmmakers took the time to define each penguin, so children will quickly identify them. And the documentary approach makes fun of the surfer lifestyle and sport without being overtly critical. In the end, the message is a good one: winning isn't everything. Friends are more important. If you like Pixar-style CGI or you know a youngster who does, Surf's Up will be the perfect ride.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced that the animated film Surf's Up will come to Blu-ray on October 9th, day and date with the DVD release. No specs have been announced at this time, but special features will include a three-part documentary on the ...