Surf's Up is a 2007 computer-animated sports mockumentary action-adventure film, and the second feature film produced by Sony Pictures Animation and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It stars Shia LaBeouf, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, Diedrich Bader and Mario Cantone.
A documentary crew follows the events of Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), a 17-year-old rockhopper penguin who has wanted to be a professional surfer ever since a visit from surf legend Zeke "Big Z" Topanga several years ago. When a talent scout shorebird named Mikey (Mario Cantone) arrives to find entrants for the "Big Z Memorial" surfing contest, Cody jumps at the chance despite lackluster support from his family. En route to the contest, Cody befriends another entrant, Chicken Joe (Jon Heder).
The entrants arrive at Pen Gu Island, the site of the contest, where Cody meets—and immediately falls in love with—Lani (Zooey Deschanel), an older female penguin who is a lifeguard. He also meets Tank "The Shredder" Evans (Diedrich Bader), an egotistical penguin who has won the Big Z Memorial nine times since it was first held after Z's disappearance during a previous match 10 years ago.
Cody sees Tank disrespecting Big Z's memorial shrine and then Tank attacks Chicken Joe. Cody immediately challenges Tank to a surfing duel, which Tank easily wins while Cody nearly drowns. Lani rescues Cody and takes him to her uncle, the "Geek" (Jeff Bridges), to help Cody recover from his injuries. Cody wakes up and panics when he can't find the souvenir necklace he got as a kid from Big Z. Geek downplays the necklace, but decides to return it when he later finds it in his hut.
Geek finds Cody sitting on an koa log and offers to teach him to make a perfect surfboard. They attempt to take the log back to Geek's house, only to lose control of it and end up on a beach away from the contest. When Cody gets to the beach, they discover a shack full of old trophies and surfboards, which are actually Z's old belongings. He spots Geek watching all those things, and he realizes that Geek is actually Z, the same surfer he had idolized all those years, and asks Z to teach him to surf. Reluctantly, Z agrees, but says that Cody has to make his own board first.
The attempt doesn't go well, however, as an impatient Cody doesn't listen to Z's advice about using long, smooth strokes and makes a board that shatters as soon as he tries to enter the water. Frustrated, he storms off, running into Lani, who eventually persuades him to return. That night, a calmer, more patient Cody works on a new board, finishing it by morning, falling asleep.
Z compliments Cody on his board, but when Cody is eager to start training, Z instead has him do seemingly menial tasks unrelated to surfing. Cody loses his patience with Z only playing with him, but when Z is asleep, he places him on the board and pushes him into the water. Z asks him if he had fun, and when Cody tells "yes", Z takes him to the water. Z teaches Cody, telling him to surf the waves with long, smooth strokes, just like making the board. Lani comes in and joins them. Cody then asks Z if he'll come watch the contest, but Z refuses, saying he faked his disappearance because he realized he couldn't compete with Tank, and that he was tired. Upset that Z just gave up, Cody leaves, meets up with Joe, and gets back to the contest just as it begins.
Tank easily makes the finals, as do Cody and Joe, and Joe turning out to be a natural born surfer. In the semi-finals, Tank battles with Cody, with Tank playing with him, but he falls off the board and loses. Cody and Joe make it to the finals. During the finals, however, Tank bursts in and tries to cause Joe to wipe out. Cody intervenes at the last minute, sending him and Tank out of bounds on the rocks. Tank wipes out and is rescued by Lani while Z, who had been secretly watching Cody's performance, helps Cody get back to the beach. Z and Cody find out that Joe won by default since Tank and Cody were disqualified. Cody no longer cares about winning, however, having decided he'd rather just have fun instead. Z reveals himself to the audience and invites all the spectators to surf. Cody finishes his interview and joins the rest of his friends (including Z and Joe) and a reformed Tank in the water.
- Shia LaBeouf as Cody Maverick
- Zooey Deschanel as Lani Aliikai
- Jon Heder as Chicken Joe
- Jeff Bridges as Big Zeke Topanga
- James Woods as Reggie Belafonte
- Diedrich Bader as Tank Evans
- Mario Cantone as Mikey Abromowitz
- Dana Belben as Edna Maverick
- Brian Posehn as Glen Maverick
- Kelly Slater as Kelly
- Rob Machado as Rob
- Ash Brannon and Chris Buck as Filmmaker #1 and Filmmaker #2
- Reed Buck as Arnold
- Reese Elowe as Kate
- Jack P. Ranjo as Smudge
- Matthew W. Taylor as Ivan, Glenn's Buddy
To obtain the desired hand-held documentary feel, the film's animation team motion-captured a physical camera operator's moves.
Surf's Up has a 78% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 144 reviews; the average rating is 6.7/10. The site's consensus reads: "Surf's Up is a laid-back, visually stunning animated movie that brings a fresh twist to some familiar conventions. Its witty mockumentary format is fun and inventive, and the CGI is breathtakingly realistic." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film a score of 64 out of 100 based on 26 reviews.
Some reviews noted that in spite of it coming so soon after many films featuring penguins (March of the Penguins, Madagascar, and Happy Feet), Surf's Up was able to stand out on its own. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times reviewed: "The originality of the documentary format coupled with the splendid CGI effects qualifies Surf's Up as not just another penguin movie."
The Dallas Morning News critic Nancy Churnin agreed: "Sorry, cynics, Surf's Up is a charmer. And if the birds look somewhat familiar, they have something fresh to say about friendship and what winning is all about." While James Berardinelli of ReelViews said: "If you have to see one penguin movie, this is it", Kyle Smith of the New York Post had a different opinion: "Maybe the next penguin flick will do more justice to the subject." Roger Moore of Orlando Sentinel gave the film a positive score, noting that it was "beautifully animated, terrifically acted and edited in a way that hilariously mimics those Endless Summer surf documentaries."
Conversely, Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic's critic, disliked almost everything: "From the nondescript voices to routine animation to an over-written story, this movie spends much of its time gasping for air."
Surf's Up is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on October 9th 2007. It includes an all new animated short The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas and an 2002 academy award winning animated short The ChubbChubbs!. The Blu-Ray 3D version was released on July 1st 2014.
Awards and Nominations
Surf's Up was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 80th Academy Awards, but lost to Ratatouille. The films was also nominated for 10 Annie Awards at the 35th Annie Awards, and won two awards: Animated Effects, and Animation Production Artist:
- Best Animated Feature
- Animated Effects: Deborah Carlson (won)
- Animation Production Artist: John Clark (won)
- Character Animation in a Feature Production: Dave Hardin
- Character Animation in a Feature Production: Alan Hawkins
- Character Design in an Animated Feature Production: Sylvain Deboissy
- Directing in an Animated Feature Production: Ash Brannon & Chris Buck
- Production Design in an Animated Feature Production: Marcelo Vignali
- Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production: Denise Koyama
- Writing in an Animated Feature Production: Don Rhymer and Ash Brannon & Chris Buck
- This is the first Sony Pictures Animation film to not feature any humans.
- This is the second Sony Pictures Animation film to use profanity after Open Season.
- This was originally Sony Pictures Animation's only theatrical film not converted to 3-D until 2017's The Star.
A direct-to-video sequel, titled Surf's Up 2: WaveMania, was released on January 17, 2017. The film stars WWE superstars John Cena, Triple H, The Undertaker, Vince McMahon, and Paige.