© 2022 All Rights reserved WUSF
News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Surf-Penguin Mockumentary Catches a Mellow Wave

Penguins have been having a good couple of years at the cineplex: They became celebrities in March of the Penguins, they tap-danced in Happy Feet, and starting today they'll be riding the waves in Surf's Up. So while you'd be excused for feeling a bit penguined out, bear with me for a moment: In a "normal" movie about animated penguins — surfing, in Hawaii, at the Penguin World Surfing Competition — you'd expect to see what? A tropical paradise teeming with wave-riding, high-fiving penguins, right?

What you might not expect is an animated camera crew "filming" the sort of mockumentary Christopher Guest has made a specialty of. Imagine a penguinized Waiting for Guffman, complete with a cast of deeply committed eccentrics — Chicken Joe, for instance, a surfer dude who is vague enough about the world to feel pampered when some penguin cannibals toss him and some vegetables into what he assumes is a hot tub. Their adventures, and their interviews, are all captured in documentary-style handheld camerawork — which is tricky, since there's no camera involved in digital animation.

And the movie-making jokes don't stop there. The boom mike keeps slipping into the frame. There are animated Super 8 family movies. Jokes about documentaries, surfer movies and even penguin movies, now that they're becoming a genre. And because the filmmakers recorded the actors' voices together, rather than in isolation as in most animated movies, the characters ad-lib like they do in other mockumentaries. Shia LaBeouf as Cody and Jeff Bridges as Big Zeke, for instance, sit down with a big log, set about trying to release its inner surfboard — and away they riff.

Along with the easygoing dialogue comes a relaxed message: that having fun is more important than winning. This comedy is PG-gentle, and sweet, and laid-back like no kid flick I can think of. Surf's Up even feels relaxed in the way it uses computer animation; it's not trying to go all National Geographic on you. Cody & Co. just want to make you feel at one with the wave, inside a perfect curl, warmed by the light of a perfect sunset, with a penguin hanging ... six?

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.