Making the Grades
Not since Dick Van Dyck and a waddle of animated penguins soft-shoed their way across the set in Mary Poppins have the tuxedoed birds seen so much screen time. Starting with the Oscar-winning documentary, March of the Penguins, a whole gaggle of tales have hatched about the species, the latest being the computer-generated mockumentary Surf's Up.
Armed with portable cameras and overhead mics, a group of reality TV producers descend on the snowy shores of Shiverpool, Antarctica to document the life of southern surfer Cody Maverick (voice by Shia LeBeouf) who rides the waves between floating ice floes. Unfortunately the other birds in Cody's rookerie are a little icy toward the cocky teenager who'd rather be carving the water than taking his turn in the fish plant. So, when a talent scout shows up on the island seeking some up-and-comers for surfing promoter and Don King-look-alike, Reggie Belafonte (voice by James Wood), to sponsor a wave-riding competition, Cody is ready to skip work and head for warmer climates.
Hoping to follow in the path of his boarding idol, Big Z (voice by Jeff Bridges), and win the Penguin World Surfing Championship, the newcomer jumps at the chance to challenge the current leader Tank Evans (voice by Diedrich Bader). But on his first run, Cody suddenly flounders. Caught in the undertow, he is hauled out of the water by Lani the lifeguard (voice by Zooey Deschanel) and taken to the jungle dwelling of her out-of-shape, reclusive Uncle Geek. Having inexplicably lost his ability to surf, Cody putters around the beach until he discover the old hermit has a secret that just might help him make a comeback.
While hanging out on the warm sands, the beachcombers' lifestyle includes some unconventional behavior like using urine for an antiseptic and eating squid on a stick. Cannibals on the island also try to make lunch of one of the surfing competitors, Chicken Joe (voice of Jon Heder). As well, baby boarders get a chance to give their input during interviews, sometimes using mild potty language to describe the older competitors.
With only veiled sexual comments, some fondling of trophies and a pixilated depiction of a naked animal character, the movie has relatively few concerns other than surfing injuries (one of which supposedly results in a death). But with so many penguin stories piling up in theaters, Surf's Up hardly stands out as original or highly innovative. Still, some great underwater shots and a hero who finally finds there is more to life than being in front of the camera make this film a moderately entertaining seaside story.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Surf’s Up.
Although Cody is able to manage the waves in Antarctica, he chokes when it comes to the competition. Why do you think that is? How does he overcome his setback?
What role does Lani play in supporting her uncle’s reclusive habits? Why does he need her to take care of him?
Why is Cody so set on winning the competition? How does his father’s death affect his desire? What is the greatest lesson he learns from the other boarders?