Sony Rides Penguin Wave with Surf’s Up

DreamWorks’ green ogre and Disney’s ghoulish pirates will get some killer competition today in theaters in the shape of cute, CG-animated surfing penguins. Sony Pictures Animation’s sophomore effort, Surf’s Up, is expected to make an impressive splash in 3,528 theaters in the U.S.

Directed by Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2) and Chris Buck (Disney’s Tarzan), the clever mockumentary-style comedy offers a behind-the-scenes look at the annual Penguin World Surfing Championship and centers on up-and-comer Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf). Jeff Bridges also shines as the voice of Big Z, a washed- up pro who reaches a few life lessons to Cody. Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods and Mario Cantone are among the other celebs sharing their vocal talents.

The team at Sony Pictures Animation have been getting heads up for their amazing CG depiction of the waves, sun-soaked sandy beaches and ability to approximate handheld camera work seen in documentaries. Also noteworthy is the casual interaction between the voice actors, which is a direct result of the cast’s group recording sessions.

The film has generated a 71% rating at rottentomatoes.com, a reflection of generally positive, if not Pixar-level enthusiasm. As Chicago Tribune’s Michael Philips put it, ‘The film’s vibe could only be described as sun-baked. Some kids’ movies don’t try very hard, and you resent the laziness: This one doesn’t try too hard, but its offhandedness is a break from the usual manic Over the Hedge-y attack.’

Also opening today is Warner Bros’ Ocean Thirteen, Steven Soderbergh’s third outing for George Clooney, Brad Pitt and their slick team of Vegas cons. The movie goes day-and-date in 25 markets, including all major European territories, along with South Korea. Meanwhile, DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek the Third adds 14 markets before opening in France, Japan and Mexico next weekend. Sony Classics will continue its successful run of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika in Los Angeles and New York this weekend. Also opening today is Eli Roth’s gore-fest sequel Hostel 2.

In case you’re keeping score for all the summer movies to date: here are the critical ratings on rottentomatoes.com: Spider-Man 3: 61%; Shrek 3: 41%; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: 46%; Paprika: 89%; Surf’s Up: 71%. Next stop for toon fans and family audiences is Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille which opens on June 29.