Surf’s Up (2007)

Rated: PG . Grade: DBCC=C
Directed by: Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, who have previously done work on Toy Story 1+2, Chicken Little, A Bug’s Life, Olive and Company, and The Little Mermaid

Starring: The voices of Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, and Diedrich Bader.

Summary: A runt of a penguin in Antarctica was once visited by a legendary surfer, Big Z, and dreams of competing in the annual world penguin surfing championships. He gets his big chance, but he learns that the mild waves of the pole have not prepared him for real competition in the tropics against the malicious Tank Evans.

Entertainment Value: D The one thing that used to always drive the classic Disney movies was a real villain. Tank Evans is a bad guy, but we get so much psychobabble about his troubled relationship with his trophies and his insecurities that he is a lampoon rather than a villain. Reggie the agent is the most repulsive figure in the movie, but only the adults will comprehend why. Kids will think he’s silly and funny. The art is quite good, but the basic problem in animated kids movies is simple: nobody does it like Pixar. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish Sony Animation’s other recent release, Open Season. My son liked it, but, then again, how much does it really take to entertain a three-year old?

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence C, Language B, Illegality A, unless you count cheating in sports as illegality. Tank Evans seems to have a romance going with his trophies and one scene shows an obscured animal crotch as a joke. There are some events that risk the death of the penguins. A penguin urinates on another to relieve the pain of an urchin sting. Penguins chop fish, and jokes are made about a chicken eating chicken strips. It’s also worth noting that the penguins seem to develop tattoo-like markings as they mature in surfing, even though this phenomenon is shown rather than discussed.

Significant Content: C This movie is essentially a platform for Zen Buddhism, or surfilosophy, most of which is harmless on its own. Exist in the moment. Don’t covet results. Do things for their own sake. Do not be attached to popularity or competition. Be loyal to your friends. Have fun. Find your own way of doing things. The one best message in this movie is that sacrificing your own desires for the benefit of others is noble, and only when you’ve given up the need to win can you do this.

Artistic/Thought Value: C If the movie doesn’t get watched, the message doesn’t get consumed. Although the animation here was quite pleasing visually, the overall movie was not so hot. Can I really believe that the penguin version of Mr. Miyagi can really teach his zen principles so well to a young pupil that in a few days he can go from nearly killing himself on a big wave to being in a position to beat the best in the world? Not so much. On the other hand, I actually liked the mock documentary style of the film, with the interspliced shots of his family and home life.

Discussion Questions:
  • What do you make of the tattoo-like marks on the penguins? Does this make tattoos look appealing?
  • Are sports figures role models? Do you think they can avoid the burden of being so?
  • Is learning to “be in the moment” something that should be done because it’s a good strategy for winning or because it’s the right way to compete? Have you ever had to choose between winning and helping others?
  • Big Z is drawn back into public life because Cody has such a high opinion of him. How is it useful to think highly of people?
  • Can you think of any situations where it is important for people not to do their own thing but to conform to a social norm?
  • What are the parallels between Big Z and saving sinners in Christianity?
  • What do you think of Big Z's reasons for leaving surfing?
Overall Grade: C Cars was a much better version of everything this movie has to offer except for the penguins. Sony Pictures Animation is not Pixar. But then again, neither is Dreamworks Animation.

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