Sony Pictures Animation is one of the most unique and interesting animation studios out there. I've always been fascinated with their filmography which while far from perfect does consist of a wide range of unique animated films. Even during their period during the early 2010s were they seemed to lose their way before getting back on top with "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", they still had an interesting track record. This is what made rewatching "Surf's Up" interesting. This being the studio's second film after "Open Season", it had a lot to offer and I think it still holds up. Until "Spider-Verse" came out and won the Oscar, this was their only animated film that got nominated for Best Animated Feature at the ceremony. I can say that I do agree with the nomination as it was a lot of fun.
A seventeen-year-old penguin from Antarctica named Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) dreams of being a surf champion like his idol Big Z who had died ten years ago. One day, he's given the chance to compete in a surf competition on Pingu Island after a talent scout named Mikey (Mario Cantone) discovers him at his home in Shiverpool. When he arrives there, he becomes friends with another surfer named Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) and enemies with the nine-time champ of the competition, Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader). After a challenge goes wrong between him and Tank, Cody saved by a lifeguard penguin named Lani (Zooey Deschanel) who takes him to her uncle "Geek" (Jeff Bridges). After helping Cody out, it is later revealed that Geek is rather Big Z himself who had faked his death to escape the limelight. Hoping to get some training from him, Cody sets out to get Z to show him the ways of being a surfer.
Looking back on this film, I can say that this was the first film where Sony Pictures Animation showed they had the potential to make a great animated movie. They had a lot to live up to since their first film, "Open Season", was pretty bad as well as another animated penguin film, "Happy Feet" coming out a year prior and won a lot of awards including the Oscar. The good news is that unlike the former, this film benefits by having a much better script which was co-written by the directors themselves, Ash Brannon, a former Pixar animator who had previously co-directed "Toy Story 2", and Chris Buck, a Disney animator who eventually returned to the studio to make the "Frozen" films. Together, the two directors made a film with an interesting technique as it was shot to look like a documentary. Overall, I think it's most effective and does benefit the story although it does lose that feel and becomes more like a narrative film towards the end of the film. Apart from that, I thought it was interesting and worked for this fun story. It definitely had some funny moments and I do feel that it was a good hero's journey story. We really get to see Cody blossom into the surfer he would become and I think it was handled perfectly. As far as the animation goes, it still really holds up. One of my major complaints with "Open Season" was how the animation looked dated with the water in particular really looking poor. In the course of a year, they really improved their water animation as it still holds up and looks real. I also want to talk about the camera technologies they made with this film. To make the film look more like a documentary and have its handheld camera moves look realistic, the crew developed motion-capture technology to have a device that looks like a camera follow the animation being presented on the screen as it was happening in real life. I really loved that technique shown in the film and showed the potential Sony could have with experimenting with its animation. As far as the characters go, I do find them most enjoyable. Cody is a good protagonist that really lends him to be both likable and relatable, I also did like Lani who, while I thought her romance with Cody did seem a little forced, was sweet and had her moments. I felt that Tank was the right kind of a villain who's both hatable and obnoxious but not to the point where it turns you off and also Chicken Joe was a funny comic-relief who lent his way to some hilarious moments. Though the real scene-stealer was easily Z. I mean, considering he's being played by Jeff Bridges, it was clear he was gonna be the highlight. He channels his character of The Dude from "The Big Lebowski" in this film and it led to him being my favorite character of the film. I thought Bridges was fantastic in the film. In fact, the whole cast gave it their all with Shia LaBeouf also really working well proving he's a good actor if given the right script. If I had any complaints apart from the documentary feel not holding up through the entire film, it's that the opening is rushed. I appreciate the filmmakers not dragging the story and getting to the point, but I do feel it could've been handled better and should've been expanded a little bit.
Overall, I still feel that "Surf's Up" is still a unique and fun film with a story that has an interesting and effective method of presenting itself, the animation still holding up and looking amazing, and the characters all being memorable and fun to watch. This is easily one of Sony Pictures Animation's best films and I do highly recommend you guys check it out. There's a lot of good waves to be found here.