Thursday, December 20, 2007
CARS isn't wildly funny or illuminating or anything else. It just sorta rocks along pleasantly for an hour and a half, content to be content in the journey.
Here's the setup: Lightning McQueen is *this close* to winning the coveted Piston Cup and making all his dreams come true. He's just gotta get to LA in time for the race and the meeting with the big sponsor and the fame and the fans and so on and so forth. But then he gets sidetracked, DOC HOLLYWOOD style, in a litte town on Route 66. Surprisingly, he learns some life lessons about community and selflessness, and he finds out that maybe what he wanted isn't what he wanted, at all. It's a fine chassis for a kids' story, and it works as advertised, with some particularly clever touches in the realization of an all-autos world. This is a Pixar production, so it looks fabulous and has all the marks of a precision machine. It hits its marks and, while not a masterpiece, it answers the mail.
What's more interesting is the trend to focus on the importance of sportsmanship and fair play in kids' movies that I've been noticing. It's a delightful change from the "2nd place is first loser" mentality that I see permeating much of popular culture and a message that's worth getting out there. There's nothing trite about class, and it's good to see that reinforced in popular entertainment.
SURF'S UP is the funniest movie I've seen since SUPERBAD.
Here's the setup: Cody Maverick (Great name!) is an Antarctic penguin who has just plain gotta surf. Will he win the big surf-off? Will he win the respect of the Big Kahuna? Will he win the heart of the cute lifeguard girl? Ok, sounds pretty standard so far - I get it. But have no fear. SURF'S UP is done in a witty, surfer-doc style that feels like half Warren Miller and half Bruce Brown, and it succeeds in being both visually exciting (actually, no small feat for a CGI movie about surfing penguins) and laugh-out-loud funny. Shia LaBeouf voices Cody, The Once and Future Dude voices the Big Kahuna, the unbearably cute Zooey Deschanel plays the lifeguard, and even Jon Heder manages to entertain as the stoner chicken buddy who'll pass as merely goofy in front of the youngsters at whom this film is ostensibly targeted. Yes, that's right: I just wrote the words "stoner chicken buddy." Roll with it.
The gags come at just the right pace, with different aspects of the same bit targeted for different ages. One more than one occasion, this film had my whole family laughing at the same time, but for different reasons. The story clips right along, the thing looks great, and I suspect there's more to find on subsequent viewings, of which I predict there will be many.
Though SURF'S UP does have a downside in that it made me seriously question my decision to move away from San Diego and its perfect slow rollers, I recommend this film without reservation. Who'd have thought I'd love an animated movie about surfing penguins? But there it is.