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CGIFeature Film

Go see “Surf’s Up”


Last night Asifa-Hollywood had a screening of Surf’s Up and I moderated an enjoyable Q&A with Ash Brannon and several key members of the production crew.

Don’t let this film pass you by. It’s excellent. It’s not just another “penguin movie”. It’s a surfing comedy with funny characters and, bottom line, it’s very entertaining. And you can tell the different penguin characters apart!

I never thought I’d be raving about effects animation, but the wave effects alone are worth the price of admission. The story is told in a semi-mock documentarty style, with hand-held camera moves I haven’t quite seen in an animated film before. I could go on and on about it; it’s superior in every way and I’d hate to see it get lost in the shuffle between the other summer heavyweights (Shrek The Third and Ratatouille). I don’t often do an out-and-out plug for a current release, but this film deserves a shot. It’s one of the best of the year.

  • Mac

    I’ve been wanting to see this since I saw the trailers. It does seem to stand out amongst the myriad other cg films. It is a great feature of a movie to be able to visually distinguish between different characters.

  • Anastasia Lee

    Thanks Jerry
    But i’m holding out for “Spider Penguins of the Caribbean the Third”

  • Joe

    I saw this last weekend and I loved it. I agree wholeheartedly with Jerry. I honestly wanted to see it again immediately after so I could just admire the backgrounds and effects.

  • I’ve been shouting from the Frederator mountaintops about this film. It would be a shame if this film doesn’t get the box office love it deserves. Hopefully it has legs, or fins, or flippers, or whatever. GO SEE IT!

  • hayden

    I saw it last Sunday with an animator friend (i am not, just a fan) and we were both pleasantly surprised by the humor and character animation.

    Absolutely worth checking out.

  • Aaron

    I must admit, I did not have high hopes for this film. From the trailer it looks like just another celebrity-voiced-talking-animal, fish-out-of-water, pop-culture-reference-filled, waste of time. However, on your recommendation, I’ll have to check it out.

  • Jonathan Green

    I appreciate it when you post an opinion of a current animated offering. I try not to expose my kids to the usual dross and it’s hard to get valid opinions from other parents who will say anything animated is good. Even if its not Ratatouillie, an afternoon spent in a theater with one’s kid’s at one’s side is sublime.

    Thanks for the heads up!

  • Wow! I really had dismissed this one as yet another penguin movie, and the trailers didn’t really do much to change my mind. I might actually go to see it now. Thanks Jerry!

  • Benjamin

    Saw this last night and it was definitely worth the money. For the first time in a while, a feature animation had me laughing throughout the entire thing. Sure, the story is predictable, simple, and short, but the true gems lie in the voice acting and character work. It’s almost as if Sony Animation was able to get beyond the fact that they were making a CG movie and instead made a movie that happened to be CG.

  • Quote: It’s not just another “penguin movieâ€?.

    Who’d have thought there’d ever be a film genre called “pengin movies?” (Perhaps “Film Nore et Blanc” for the cinema elite?)

    I was afraid it was going to be “edgy” characters full of “tude” standing around saying stuff like, “Woah, gnarly, dude!” Sounds like it might be otherwise. Jerry’s recommendation seals it for me; I’ll try to see this one.

  • Well, this is an interesting surprise. I had no intention of seeing this movie, since it looked to be just yet another paint-by-numbers American cartoon. I’m kind of burned out on all these pictures that follow the same cliched plots and tired gags and fart jokes. But, hey, if this movie gets a solid endorsement, then I’ll have to be sure to check it out. Let’s cross our fingers….

  • I’m looking forward to this, since I think it’s produced by the same company that produced Monster House last year. There’s been a big leap as far as visual style and effect animation are concerned.

    But has anyone noitced how big young Shia LaBoeuf is getting? (voices Cody) Transformers too? Damn. Maybe he is the next Michael J Fox.

  • Mel

    Jeffrey Katzenberg allegedly believes that “Kung Fu Pandas” will be the best CGI animated film of them all. What if he’s right?

  • Well Jerry, you just single-handedly made my local movie theater a few bucks, I would never have thought to see this.

    Whats the humor like? It’s not stupid sex jokes like Happy Feat is it?

  • I saw it and loved it and can’t wait to see it again. It’s so refreshing when characters have back stories and are well thought out. Seriously….this one’s good!
    Check out my mini review at

  • As much as movies these days use celebrity voice talent to sell tickets, I’m glad at least this film is using some good ones. James Woods and Jeff Bridges = :]
    I suppose tonight when my friend are watching the “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Angry Cloud Galactus” I shall tiptoe into the other cinema and watch Surfs Up.

  • Yeah, these guys deserve a lot more at the boxoffice.

  • G

    Surf’s up…more like two thumbs up.

  • Jpox

    If you liked it Jerry, I should love it.
    I’ll have to try to make it out this weekend.

  • The guys behind this movie were definitally trying to do something original.

    I saw it. It looked like animation was meeting Christopher Guest’s form of “mockumentary.” I think they did a great job with it. And even in that format, they managed to get some good characters and visuals out of it. And some of the actors used here did a pretty good job for a change, especially Jeff Bridges.

    Anyone curious should go see it. I took a chance with it, and I believe it was worth it.

  • Billy Badtz

    I think we need MORE penguin movies!! Where would american animation be if March of the Penguins never came out? Keep on followin’ the rest of the pack, keep on with the cliche storylines and sitcom jokes. I call it Belly Up.

  • Carolyn Bates

    Congratulations, filmmakers. This is a really wonderful film – funny, touching and beautiful. I especially loved Zooey Deschanel as Lani. I used to drive her in my daughter’s grade school carpool and now she’s a lovely, talented star.

  • Nipplenuts McGurk

    I was at the ASIFA screening, and it was awesome! Jerry’s right – this isn’t the same old typical cliche and shticky CG bullcrap. This film blows away the Shreks and the Cars and the Hedges….it’s so refreshing, so appealing…genuinely funny, doesn’t feel “writer-ish” at all…..and the amazing visual marriage of appealing cartoony characters w/ realistic camera work is truly something new and interesting….it’s like watching “real” cartoons on film, if that makes any sense….like – living breathing cartoons…heh. And – the best part…..Jeff Bridges….LEBOWSKI PENGUIN! Go see it.

  • JG

    *checks the release date*
    October 19…

    If you ask me, this one has a weird worldwide release schedule.
    Regardless, can’t wait to see it.

  • Isn’t this by that studio that made Open Season? That wasn’t a bad start, and featured some nice cartoony animation. I wouldn’t of gone near this film judging from what I’ve seen of it so far of it, but I’m a bit interested in this now. My ranking for this movie has gone from “avoid” to “rental”. I’m a tight wad when it comes to coughing up the seven quid for a cinema ticket, so sadly this film hasn’t convinced me enough yet, but if someone invites me I’ll give it a go.

  • I saw “Surf’s Up!” on Tuesday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I laughed from beginning to end. There were few (if any) stupid pop culture references, bathroom humor moments, or any of the the other things you were forced to witness during Shrek 3. All you have are clever characters, unexpected moments, a good story, and (for once) a unique way of telling it. I left the theater smiling, and I can’t remember the last time that happened.

    Leave the poorly designed, mo-cap, dancing, penguins at home, and go see something truly fun.

  • John Ellis

    “Surf’s Up” was a film my entire family enjoyed!

    Unlike ‘Shrek 3’, which bored us all to tears.

    I’m glad I was dragged out to it, instead of trusting the “Meh? -Another- CGI animal flick?” opinions expressed back when the trailer was released.

  • Corey

    I was shocked as well, this movie has some of the best character stuff I’ve ever seen in CG.

  • I took Jerry’s recommendation to heart and took my 3 kids to see it last night. It is a really great film! I had no intention of seeing this until Jerry recommended it, and I’m glad I went!
    I loved the documentary style of filming, but I love the tv show “The Office” too, so it worked well with me. I was really blown away by the visuals, not only were the water effects beautiful, but all of the environments looked so realistic, but yet it still felt like a cartoon world. The characters were well developed and I thoroughly enjoyed the progression of the movie. Not once did I stop and say to myself: “well that character was completely useless and annoying”, unlike that pig character in “Chicken Little” where I could never understand a word he said.
    It’s a great flick all around, my kids were already asking if we could buy the movie on DVD when we were driving home from seeing it!

  • What I really like is Sony is choosing to go with a cartoony, appealing look to all its films ( all two of them so far )

    I would also like to point out how good the voice acting was ( Though I could have done without James Woods ) If there has been a more natural, more well done voiceover actor than Jeff Bridges in this movie, I haven’t seen it. And I’m usually the one who dislikes celebrities doing voiceovers ( I think it ruins the originaslity of a character ) But in this case, his breathless “meh” performance of Big Z was just too good.

    This also proves that while it is preferable to have an original idea, if there ARE several studios with the same premise ( Penguins, bugs, etc ) it will be the best STORY that stands out among them.

  • Just got back from it. I loved it. The water effects are very lovely, and so’s the story.

  • DanO

    with all due respect, there really is no “cartoony, appealing look” to this film. a fine film it may be, but its not setting itself apart with a look.

    it is more or less the exact same CGI animal look that we’ve seen in about a dozen others movies that have come out in the last five years. 2D animation has different styles, and CGI hasn’t yet figured out how to vary up the style of design in their movies. thats what leaves me feeling so cold about CGI films: you can almost take every character from every big budget CGI film ever made and they look like they populate the same world. what a bore.

  • G

    First Penguins.

    Soon to come…Pandas.

    Next… Zebras.

    Mark my word.

  • I thought it was visually appealing. So that makes it visually appealing DanO :P

  • John Ellis

    The herky-jerky, dead-eyed CGI penguins in Happy Feet certainly do not look like they live in the same world as the cartoony, expressive penguins in Surf’s Up.

  • DanO

    touche Matt, but you see my point about the homogenized characters of these CGI features… :/

  • Homogenized in what sense? That they have eyes, feathers, and move around? Compare these designes to Happy feet for example. In HF, you could barely tell the other penguins apart. In Surf’s Up, each character was unique and there was no way you could mistake one for the other.

    Also, i don’t consider solid, Disney-esque designs to be “poor” design. As a matter of fact, i have gotten sick to death of all the wanna be UPA, uber-sylized-plat-as-a-pancake thick-ass line NONSENSE Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon have put out in the last 10 years.

    Sorry, but I find lack of volume and realism unappealing.

  • Fidel

    The movie had GREAT effects animation…but as far as the plot is concerned, and we all know how movies are supposed to tell interesting stories in order to draw our attention, I think it’s a bit lacking. For yet another “penguin movie,” it IS different and you can definitely tell this one apart from HAPPY FEET and enjoy it on its own terms. The mockumentary style does give it an original edge, but it was not enough to make me feel for these characters. Although, I recommend anyone to see this INSTEAD of Shrek the Third…

  • DanO

    Matt, your rant doesn’t change the fact that Open Season, Surf’s Up, Over The Hedge, Barnyard, Ice Age(x2), Madagascar, & The Wild have all been released in the last five years and the characters of which all look like they populate the exact same world.

    the same style.
    the same imagery.

    its not impressing audiences anymore. imagine if we had just as many sci-fi releases all taking place in the same post apocalyptic world. the same beef applies to the flat graphic styles of CN & Nick(of which i am not a fan either). I’m just looking for some variety. me and the rest of the nation…

  • Well, maybe you should write a script or two DanO. I have. Haven’t sold one yet, so that doesnt treally make me a writer in the eyes of many, but I TRY and make unique stories. I’m sure you can do the same.

    Part of the problem is studios have gotten so full of themselves, that they wont even accept pitchers from animators anymore. As a matter of fact, i know that the top 3 ammerican studios wont take a pitch from anyone not represented by the top 5 talent agencies in Hollywood.

    So…to all you little guys out there…tough luck! You”re screwed unless your name is Brad bird or John lassater.

  • tom

    I saw Surf’s Up tonight and I agree one hundred percent. The movie was just terrific! Everyone should see this in the theater once or twice. Stunning visuals too.

  • Michael J. Hayde

    FanTASTtic movie! Thanks, Jerry, for the recommendation. I took the kids and they LOVED it! It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed out loud at an animated movie that wasn’t directed by Avery or Clampett.

  • Keith Paynter

    Finally had a chance to see it last night. There is definitely a great look to this film (water animation is fantastic!), but the story is way too thin, and the Big Z reveal was obvious for me a lot sooner than in the film. I did find myself trying to figure out who his voice was throughout the film and waited for the credits (thinking for much of the time that it could have been Norm MacDonald, only a lot less nasal…wow, Jeff Bridges – they sure sound very similar).

    I will give the film credit for the ‘documentary’-style of storytelling, including some great handheld emulating. Worth at least another rental when it comes out on DVD.

  • Spoilers ahead:

    I have to side with DanO and Keith Paynter. Even though the look was great (the water sim is fantastic) and the character animation was really good, I was almost bored. I’m actually surprised that you recommended the movie. I don’t think it’s a failure and it should have made more at the box office, but it’s not fantastic either. The story was very predictable (you can figure out the Big Z reveal the moment you see him – they should have left him out of the trailers and posters), the style nothing new (even though appealing), the camera work got annoying (I get it, handy cam – a better use of it can be seen in “Monster House”) and it switches between documentary style and regular feature “film crew” style, not really deciding on what type of movie this should be. Plus the interviews were like “Creature Comforts”. All in all, not too original. Even worse, they used the classic line “… glass of shut the hell up” from Happy Gilmore and are very “inspired” by the surf documentary “Riding Giants”. Again, not very original.

    But hey, the target audience won’t know or notice or care, so I still think it should have made a bigger splash (zing) at the box office.