What Parents Should Know
Parents need to know that this animated comedy has been heavily marketed to kids, and those who liked Happy Feet will be particularly interested in seeing it. Although there's not much violence, there are a few mildly perilous scenes during the surfing competition and in old photos/footage. And (big surprise for an animated story) the main character has a dead parent -- in this case, a father who was eaten by a shark. There's some unfortunate potty talk (which parents might want to manage at home), a harmless flirtation between two penguins, and a surfing champ's bizarre attachment to his trophies, which he refers to as his "girls."
Families can talk about the current penguin craze. Why do you think there are so many movies and cartoons featuring them, from March of the Penguins to Madagascar? Are newer movies just copying the older ones, or do they all have different things to offer? Families can also discuss sportsmanship and determination. Is it more important to enjoy a sport or be competitive at it? Can you be both without placing winning above all else? What does Big Z teach Cody about idolizing role models too much? Why do we place professional athletes on a pedestal?
Common Sense Media Review
Penguins have been all the cinematic rage since the Academy Award-winning documentary March of the Penguins became a surprise summer blockbuster in 2005. Next came 2006's coming-of-age musical -- and fellow Oscar winner -- Happy Feet . This year's entry in the avian Antarctic adventure genre is SURF'S UP, a clever homage to surfer flicks and documentary-style comedies.
Rising star Shia LaBeouf voices the main character, Cody, who -- like Elijah Wood's Mumble in Happy Feet -- is a misfit penguin with a passion; only instead of dancing, it's riding the waves. Crediting his tenacious spirit to a childhood encounter with legendary late surfer Big Z, Cody (followed by a camera crew) ends up in Hawaii for a major surfing competition held in Z's honor.
Cody eventually meets a hermitic penguin named Geek ( Jeff Bridges), who's modeled exactly after Bridges' iconic alter ego The Dude from The Big Lebowski (giving Lewbowski fans a movie-long "wink wink" to enjoy). Obviously, Geek is Big Z -- who never really wiped out after all -- and eventually, Z and the fatherless Cody (why do so many children's movie feature an orphaned main character?) get on the same wavelength.
Jon Heder adds extra comic relief as Chicken Joe, Cody's laconic rooster surfing buddy who's so chill that he doesn't realize a tribe of penguins is trying to stew him, not give him a hot bath. Zooey Deschnael is Lani, a beautiful lifeguard who's smitten with Cody, and James Woods is perfect as greedy surfing promoter Reggie, an otter who sports a Don King haircut.
But the funniest supporting player is the competition's egomaniacal champ Tank Evans (voiced by comedian Diedrich Bader). He treats his surfing trophies like girlfriends, giving them names, holding and kissing them, and even promising his mom that he's not secretly "polishing" them again. (Don't worry, the innuendo will fly way over a kid's head.)
Surf's Up doesn't surpass the award-winning caliber of the other recent penguin films, but with its soundtrack of surfer tunes, impressive oceanic action visuals, and cast of droll characters, it's a fresh take on an otherwise overexposed animal.
Families who like penguin flicks will enjoy Happy Feet and March of the Penguins. They should also check out the animated adventures Madagascar (which has its own penguin characters -- some of the funniest around) and Over the Hedge , as well as kid-friendly surfing flick Johnny Tsunami.
Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information to help parents make media and entertainment choices for their families.