Warning! This site contains satire, cynical adult humor, celebrity gossip, and an occasional peanut by-product or two!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Surf's Up

One of the weirdly nice parts of living in the boondocks is that we don’t have any zoos nearby. I know. You’re probably going “Huh?” like ‘What is she on this time?’ but bear with me a minute. If we had a zoo, then we’d be more likely to stick with the images of animals as they are rather than as we’d like to imagine them being and, let’s face it, you see an elephant in real life and it is smelly, dirty, slow-moving and usually has crap all over its’ rear end. If you didn’t regularly read US Weekly, you might mistake one for Courtney Love just from the description, but I’m digressing. Back to the point: You watch Dumbo and the title elephant is cute as can be, feces-free, and clean as a whistle. Not only that, but the little goober can fly and talk. Now that’s cool. Same goes with Stuart Little. Oh sure, on film he is an adorable little mouse that wears designer outfits and drives his own wee car around the house, but how happy would you really be to discover a rodent in your closet? Animals, for the most part, are better left in nature or behind bars. I’m sorry, Dear Readers, but it is true. Nature can be a pretty thing, but it is dangerous. Other than a cheerful little pussy, puppy, or perhaps a goldfish or two, critters are better off animated than domesticated. Leave the lions and tigers and bears, oh my, back in the wild and let Dreamworks, Pixar, and Disney be your guide to nature. Not only is it better for the animals themselves, it will cut down on tragic olfactory encounters with real life Pepe Le Pews now and again.

Case in point can be found in the new Sony release
Surf’s Up, which is currently playing at the Essex Cinemas. This amusing romp is told in documentary style and recalls the story of a young penguin named Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf; Disturbia) and his rise from obscurity to fame as a stunt surfer. Should I give you a moment to absorb that premise? I know it sounds bizarre, but if you forget for a minute we are talking about penguins then it could make sense. Cody has worshiped a mythic surfer named Zeke (Jeff Bridges; Stick It) since he first saw him surf during a visit to Cody’s small settlement of Shiverpool in Antarctica years earlier. After that, Cody devoted his every free second to perfecting his own skill with the board so he could eventually hitch a whale to the South Pacific and compete in the World Championships of (Fowl) Surfing at the 10th Annual Big Z Memorial Surf Off. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Oh, and before you ask, the “Big Z” is indeed the now dearly departed (for a decade no less!) Zeke of Cody’s inspirations.

The obvious blowhard competitor everybody fears is on hand, expecting his 10th straight triumph. Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader; Cattle Call) is an arrogant, tattooed Emperor Penguin with a sociopathic need to win at any cost. He’s big, brawny, thoughtless and downright ruthless when it comes to competition. Also in attendance is Chicken Joe (Jon Heder; Blades of Glory) from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a clumsy and dim-witted rooster who is in the contest even though he seems to be out of everything else that is going on. He’s a good friend, though, to Cody and the two of them form a strong bond together.

Naturally, there has to be a romantic element in the mix, and that is provided by lifeguard Lani Aliikai (Zooey Deschanel; Bridge to Terabithia), a gorgeous penguin (as gorgeous as these land-based birds can be anyway) who catches Cody’s eye right off. Apparently, in the cartoon universe,
penguins don’t smell of rotting fish and oil, and they don’t squirt out unpleasant runny poop behind them in front of one another. Instead, the females wear false eyelashes and eye shadow and have Gwen Stefani’s curves. They also flirt shamelessly and incessantly pause to save heartsick little penguin pups like Arnold (Reed Buck, in his debut), who throws himself into the water every chance he gets just so Lani will scoop him up and cuddle him on the way out of the surf.

You don’t have to be Miss Cleo to know where this is going to end up. By the climax of the movie the competition is bound to come down to a “surf off” between the abhorrent Tank and the adorable Cody. It’s also inevitable that somewhere along the way the long-lost Zeke, thought dead for the past decade, is bound to make an Obi Wan Kenobi surprise resurrection on behalf of the righteous underdog or under-penguin in this case, yada, yada, yada.

That’s the problem with
Surf’s Up. It just isn’t very original or very clever. There aren’t a lot of jokes, and the “big” ones sometimes fall flat, including a way too long sequence leading up to Chicken Joe being put in a stewpot and mistakenly thinking his captors are showing him their hospitality by inviting him to use the hot tub, even going so far as to serve him some appetizers (corn, carrots, celery, etc) while he relaxes. That joke was milked dry by Bugs Bunny in the early 1950s.

The characters themselves are cute enough, and the animation is top-notch, but no more so than what audiences expect these days. Feathers appear three dimensional, hair blows gracefully in the wind, and eyes reflect a look that passes for emotion. The only thing missing is the “soul” of the performers connected to each character. I have no idea if the animators tried to match their work with taped footage of the voice actors as Disney and Pixar do. If they did, it doesn’t show. That technique has played well for those studios in helping to mimic certain secondary mannerisms and traits of the human actors in the animated characters and thus instill in them a strong link to the person behind the drawings. Who doesn’t think of Robin Williams when the movie Aladdin comes up? For that matter, who doesn’t think of that other penguin movie, the Academy Award winning Happy Feet when you link Robin Williams with his animated penguin self? And isn’t that a problem the makers of Surf’s Up really want you to forget.

As a matter of fact, the first question the unseen “Interviewer” asks Cody at the beginning of the film is if he has any other talents, to which Cody replies “Like singing and dancing? No,” he insists, “just surfing.” And then he quickly moves on to another subject, but not before he acknowledges that not-
so-pretty real-life elephant in the theater, the specter of Happy Feet, which looms large over this production. Well, this sure ain’t no Happy Feet even with your eyes squinted and a couple of cocktails under your belt (which, by the way, are not recommended for the target audience of pre-teens). Still, it is cute enough to kill a few hours on a summer evening or on a hot afternoon when you are just feeling lazy. There are laughs here-and-there, and it’s not going to take a lot of energy to keep up with the story. Just kick back, think Jimmy Buffett in a tuxedo, and chill.
At least it won't destroy any brain cells, and that's saying something.

No comments: