Surf's Up
R1 - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Stevie McCleary (9th October 2007).
The Film

As I journey through this mystery known as life, I often find myself shocked by the things I learn. There are always situations in which you learn that the things you have believed in and hold to be true actually wind up being a falsehood. For example, before watching "Surf's Up", I was under the ridiculous misconception that penguins couldn't surf. I've been a fool. Turns out even a chicken can surf.
"Surf's Up" is seen from the perspective of a documentary crew who appear to be making a film about Cody (voiced by Shia LeBeouf, who is everywhere these days. $10 that kid burns out soon), a penguin who is essentially a lay about that just wants to follow his dream of surfing. Through a process that involves Mikey (Mario Cantone a bird who recruits surfers, a whale and Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) a surfing chicken, Cody ends up traveling to 'The Big Z Memorial' a surfing competition created, by what I believe is a hamster with Don King's hair, Reggie (James Woods) to commemorate the memory of the world's greatest (penguin) surfer. Big Z (Jeff Bridges) also happens to be Cody's idol, so it has special significance to him. Along with a few surprises along the way, the true test for Cody is not whether he can prove the critics wrong and bring home the trophy; it's what you choose to believe in at the end of the day. Whether you do things to win, or do things because they're right. And fun. It's all about fun.
The film obviously follows its own internal logic that, if you're willing to just run with, will provide a rewarding experience. There's been a glut of CG animated features in the last few years thanks to the pioneers of the genre having much initial popularity. And while "Surf's Up" is not the best of them it is definitely good value and pretty entertaining.
The animation is pretty solid all the way through. On the larger side, the water effects are very well achieved. Usually one of the harder things to animate properly, the water is almost photo-realistic at times. And on the smaller side, details such as tribal-tattoo style patterns on the penguins' bodies are also very well done and add personal touches to the entire cast. There is also the standard "this is an animation film so we must have someone ultra-cute turn up and make people go awwwww" characters. In this film they are three little baby penguins Arnold (Reed Buck), Kate (Reese Elowe) and Smudge (Jack P. Ranjo). And yeah, they're cute. Special mention must also go to the tribe of apparently cannibalistic penguins who are cute in their own way.
The humor and story is fairly standard for this type of venture. The theme of story tends to get pushed a bit too hard too early, and sort of gives away the ending a bit. But it's forgivable for the most part, considering the story they are telling. There are quite a few jokes for the parents too-some of them somewhat surprising. While managing to come across as completely innocent, this is the first time I've heard the phrase 'pecker-face' in a children's movie, very odd. In the film's context it makes perfect sense though.
The voice talent does a bang-up job as well, all the way from Cody to Tank (Diedrich Bader) the narcissistic reigning penguin surfing champion. Throw in some minor roles for surfing legends Kelly Slater and Rob Machado) (another guy who I'm sure surfers have heard of) and you get a pretty good cast. Good stuff by all concerned. Upon further reflection, that Shia guy might actually have a long career and I might be out $10.
"Surf's Up" is definitely a good one to watch, with a pretty decent moral behind it as well. The jokes are more hit than miss and the animation is gorgeous. And as with all films that children see, they'll probably want to emulate this one too. So get ready for them to bug you about becoming a surfer or a penguin. Thumbs up.

Video

Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen this film is transferred from an HD master created from the original digital source and you can't get any better than this as far as standard definition DVD is concerned. The film looks brilliant with solid, bold and vibrant colors that virtually pop off the screen. Sharpness is well balanced however keep in mind that the filmmakers added grain and occasional imperfections to give the appearance of documentary film so don't be alarmed at the grain. The detail is breathtaking just check out the many surfing sequences and you'll swear those waves are real. The transfer is a top notch effort all the way.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included for this release in English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 and also in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English 5.1 track and much like the transfer I was impressed with this surround effort that manages to immerse and encapsulate the viewer in the world of this film. The ambient surrounds are lush and varied from wind effects to the crashing of the waves and the gentle see-sawing of the ocean's surface, additionally the mix makes excellent use of the sound space with music and sound effects layering the entire soundtrack and finally dialogue is clear and distortion free.
Optional subtitles are also included in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck and producer Christopher Jenkins. This track is mostly screen-specific and these guys comment on various aspects of the production including the development of the film and it's story elements as well as what was changed for the final version and scenes that were added much later in the process. They also comment on the animation, the documentary style of the film as well as working with the various voice talents on this film. The track is very light without too much technical information. They manage to keep it interesting and with hardly any silent gaps.

Next up are a series of 4 lost scenes which include optional video introductions by directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck and producer Christopher Jenkins. In the intros they briefly talk about the scene and why it was omitted. These scenes can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' function and include:

- Intro which runs for 25 seconds, "Doris and Sheila" is a scene that runs for 54 seconds and is an interview sequence with the ex-girlfriends of Big Z.
- Intro which runs for 25 seconds, "Pen-Gu: Island of Adventure" is a short promotional film that runs for 1 minute 3 seconds that has been produced by Reggie.
- Intro runs for 50 seconds, "Z is for Zurfing" runs for 1 minute 5 seconds and is a musical sequence with Big Z reluctantly taking part.
- Intro runs for 17 seconds, "Doris and Sheila: Behind-the-Scenes" runs for 1 minute 54 seconds is actual recording session footage of an ad-libbed scene.

Following that is "Arnold's Zurfinary" a featurette that runs for 4 minutes 10 seconds and has kid penguin Arnold teaches the viewer about the surf-lingo and how to use them appropriately.

The "All Together Now: Surf's Up Voice Sessions" is another featurette which runs for 17 minutes 2 seconds and takes a closer look at the voice recording sessions for the film. Unlike most animated films where the voices are recorded separately, these actors were brought together to ad-lib portions of the film in order to get those natural documentary-like performances and the cast comments on their involvement and how much fun it was working on the film and with each other.

Following that are a series of 3 "Not a Drop of Real Water" featurettes that include:

- "Surf Cam" runs for 7 minutes 24 seconds and takes a closer look at how the filmmakers achieved the hand-held camera look for the film and the use of a motion-capture camera that allows them to film in real time within a 3-D environment.

- "Making Waves" runs for 12 minutes 55 seconds and focuses on the creation of the waves for the film and the goal in achieving realistic looking water effects for the film. The animation crew were subjected to surf lesions and also got help from some professionals when it came time to animate the sequences.

- "Storyboard to Surfboard" allows the viewers to cycle through a series of layers to get to the final shot, this provides a perspective on the various stages a scene goes through in an animated film, each sequence runs for 2 minutes 2 seconds and you can use your remote 'angle' button to cycle through them which includes storyboards, rough layout, animation, feathers and fur, effects, final film and composite as well as a "Progression reel" which shows you all the stages as the scene progresses.

Another featurette is "Meet the Penguins" which runs for 3 minutes 53 seconds and here viewers get to meet real life penguins Pete and Penny as they take us through the story pitch, a look at the motion capture cameras and voice recording.

"Progression reels" is a featurette that runs for 5 minutes 19 seconds and features visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow as he takes us through several shots explaining the various effects added to sell the final shot, these can include the layers added to create life like waves, the creation of the archival footage, particle elements, lighting, creating splashes and underwater camera among other things.

The disc features "Lose Myself" a music video performed by Ms. Lauryn Hill which runs for 3 minutes 27 seconds. The video features clips from the film, the song is also featured on the soundtrack for the film.

2 art galleries are included for:

- "Characters" which features a series of 16 images of the various character designs created for the film.
- "Locations" which features 28 images image of background and location conceptual design work.

For the kids there are 3 "The Secret Spot" interactive games that you can play using your DVD remote and include:

- "Make Your Own Surfboard with Big Z and Cody" use your remote top select tools and carve a board.
- "Whale Hopping with Chicken Joe" use your remote to hop across some whales to make it to Pen-Gu Island.
- "Lava Surf Game" use your arrow keys to navigate through the lava tubes.

Also included are 2 very funny "Chubbchubbs" short films:

- "The Chubbchubbs Save Xmas" (2007) which runs for 5 minutes 44 seconds, in this short the Chubbchubbs having been kicked off virtually every planet travel to Earth and live in the North Pole, but after an accident with Santa they help deliver presents to the children.
- "The Chubbchubbs!" (2002) runs for 5 minutes 40 seconds, this is the original Oscar winning animated short film which features the most feared creatures in the universe who befriend a alien janitor who dreams of being a karaoke star.

The disc also features a series of bonus trailers for:

- "The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep" which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Daddy Day Camp" which runs for 2 minutes 4 seconds.
- "Storm Hawks" which runs for 1 minute 3 seconds.
- "Spider-man 3" which runs for 33 seconds.
- "Monster House" which runs for 17 seconds.
- "Open Season" which runs for 17 seconds.
- "Open Season 2" which runs for 22 seconds.
- "Are We Done Yet?" which runs for 17 seconds.
- "Holly Hobbie and Friends" which runs for 1 minute 2 seconds.
- "Last Day of Summer/Shredderman Rules!" which runs for 32 seconds.
- "It's a Big Big World" which runs for 1 minute 25 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are some DVD-ROM content which includes access to Sony web links.

Packaging

This DVD is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A

 


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