Last week, Walt Disney Co. paid a cool $350 million for online site Club Penguin, a place where kids can assume a penguin identity, play and chat with other penguin avatars. The site already has more than 700,000 paid up users, and Disney could wind up paying twice as much if it hits its growth targets. Penguins are very hot right now.
And hot is how Shiverpool's Cody Maverick likes it. Voiced by Transformers' star Shia Labeouf (presumably Tom Cruise was too busy), Cody has a dream. Working in an Antarctic fish factory is not for him. He once met local surfing legend Big Z and he fully intends to emulate his hero at the annual Penguin World Surfing Championship.
Opportunity knocks in the form of a talent scout on the back of a whale. Cody flubs his audition, but his persistence pays off, and the Pacific island of Ping Gu soon beckons.
Clearly inspired by Stacy Peralta's documentary Riding Giants, and presented as a reality TV style mock-doc, the movie finds a theme of sorts in the contrast between the old school laidback surfer vibe and today's commercial, competitive ESPN-sponsored scene. The two poles are represented by a fat recluse known as Geek (Jeff Bridges), who takes Cody under his wing to show him some moves, and cynical entrepreneur Reggie Belafonte (James Woods), who only cares about the ratings.
This is relatively sophisticated stuff for a kids' cartoon, I suppose (at least compared with the wretched Happily N'Ever After, which instantly went on my list of the worst films of the year).
Even so, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for a film that plays so fast and loose. I mean, I can accept singing penguins, and gangster penguins, and even emperor penguins, but I'm thrown for a hoop when a character called Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) is allowed to compete in the Penguin World Surfing Championship. I mean, he's a chicken, right?!
The storyline doesn't so much plod as it waddles, and the mock doc technique is abandoned whenever it's convenient. Is a little consistency too much to ask for? Or maybe it just didn't make me laugh very often. (I think I may be developing an aversion to Heder to go with my irrational Chris Tucker complex.)
Still, it's certainly no wipe out. The water looks fantastic. And even in cartoon penguin form, Zooey Deschanel still manages to surprise and delight. If it sends the kids out desperate to hop on the nearest board, well, perhaps you can get them to help with the ironing.
Titles related to this article