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Animation Nation: ‘Surf’s Up’

| Wednesday, November 30, 2022

With the holiday season coming, what better way to spark up Christmas cheer than to talk about a beach movie!

I only remember bits and pieces of “Surf’s Up” from when I was kid, specifically a chicken and a killer soundtrack. But I can say that rewatching it years later as a 21-year-old, I ended the movie with more laughter and good life lessons than I remember.

In a mockumentary, 17-year-old penguin Cody Maverick from Antarctica has dreams of being a professional surfer and winning the famed “Big Z Memorial” surfing contest on Pen-Gu Island. His dreams started when he met the late “Big Z,” the most famous penguin surfer, before his death 10 years prior to the start of the film. Cody struggles with his dream due to the lack of support from his family and his penguin clan in Antarctica, only to struggle more amongst the crowds of surfers on Pen-Gu Island. However, Cody finds a mentor in Geek and friendships with Lani and Chicken Joe, who help him train for the contest throughout the rest of the film.

Besides the animation, “Surf’s Up” is also unique since it’s framed as a documentary about the life of Big Z. The team’s efforts to motion-capture camera operator movements just make it more authentic. The whole film looks surprisingly beautiful for a CGI film made in 2007, with the best indicator being the ocean and every scene where the characters surf.

All the characters all stand out from one another in their own ways. Chicken Joe, while dim-witted, is always relaxed and could care less about the competition. Instead, he lets the waves take over and goes with the flow of life. Geek is a clam-loving introvert but wants to open up with the help of Cody. And, he eventually learns to love surfing again for reasons explained in the film.

Of course, the star of this film is Cody Maverick, the penguin from Shiverpool, Antarctica who has ambitious dreams to be the best surfer out there. Surprisingly, I, and I’m sure many others in high school or college, can relate to Cody throughout the film. We had or still do have dreams that we all want to achieve in life. However, not everyone will agree or support your dream, instead putting you down and telling you to focus on other things.

One quote from the film stood out to me: “I don’t understand why everybody have to be so judgmental…Think it’s also partially ‘cause, everyone else is lookin’ at her like, ‘Hey, Cody’s just a bum. Cody’s this. Cody’s that…’ Cody’s me, bro. Let me be me. When is that going to start?”

We all want to do what we love, to be ourselves and no one else. So why is it so hard to do that nowadays?

Another surprise stand-out from this film is the soundtrack, featuring songs like “Stand Tall” by Dirty Heads, “Drive” by Incubus and “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals. The whole soundtrack is a feel-good time, and I highly recommend checking it out on Spotify.

Aside from all this, I believe the biggest lesson to take from this film is that you have to learn to enjoy life. While Cody’s dream is to win the contest, he learns that it is not the only goal in life. Instead, he learns to enjoy the sport he’s so passionate about and how to share that love with others. Life is too short to not enjoy it. Go do what you love this holiday season.

Title: Surf’s Up

Directors:  Chris Buck, Ash Brannon

Starring: Shia LeBouf, Jeff Bridges

Streaming: Hulu

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

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